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The New Zealand Herald
Abuse in Care: Lake Alice survivor calls for psychiatrist Dr Selwyn Leeks to be held to justice
By Michael Neilson
September 24, 2020

NZ Psychiatrist Selwyn Leeks

NZ Psychiatrist Selwyn Leeks

The Crown has been accused of protecting a psychiatrist himself accused of using electroconvulsive therapy and anti-psychotic drugs as “torture” on children he’d misdiagnosed at Lake Alice Hospital.

Leonie McInroe was a patient in the child and adolescent unit at the now-closed hospital near Whanganui over 18 months from 1975 to 1976, when she was aged 14 and 15.

During that time she was subjected to ECT and given anti-psychotic medication by Dr Selwyn Leeks for what she says was punishment, she revealed in her submission to the ongoing Abuse in Care Royal Commission of Inquiry investigating abuse in state and faith-based care between 1950 and 1999.

McInroe also revealed the Crown had brought Leeks into the country from Australia in 1998 for a secret mediation session, making McInroe keep the “fact, time and place” of the meeting confidential.

It took McInroe nine years to reach a settlement with the Crown, but Leeks has never been brought to justice.

“The process of seeking justice and compensation was to me an additional ongoing and sustained abuse to what I had suffered at Lake Alice at the hand of Dr Leeks and hospital management.

“This time though, the abuser was the Crown.”

She called for Leeks to be brought back to New Zealand to finally “face justice”.

McInroe was born in 1961. She was adopted shortly after birth and lived in Waihi, but her adoptive parents both died before she was 4.

She was placed in a foster home with a man and a woman.

The woman was emotionally and physically cruel to her, putting needles in her feet when she slept to see if she could feel pain, and making her eat alone in the kitchen.

She was punished for coughing. It later turned out she had asthma.

McInroe learned to keep her emotions to herself.

“It was an awful time and I was never made to feel part of the family.”

She first went to see Leeks in Palmerston North Hospital when she was 12.

In 1975 he placed her as an inpatient at Lake Alice, diagnosing her with borderline schizophrenia.

“Under his [Dr Leeks] instruction I was admitted as a voluntary patient to the Lake Alice Hospital adolescent Unit. I remained in Lake Alice Hospital for two periods totalling 18 months. As I understand, this was longer than any other Lake Alice survivor.”

It was a “terrible experience” there.

“I had so much medication it was difficult to function.”

She was given ECT on three occasions.

The first was for “being smart, disrespectful, cheeky, giggling”.

“Leeks gave me shock treatment himself in the evening and I remained conscious until I was unconscious. There was no anaesthetic, There was no muscle relaxant. And I recall that vividly.”

She started her claim in 1992 with lawyer Phillipa Cunningham, and later Robert Chambers.

A consultant psychiatrist said McInroe has “clearly suffered adverse psychological, physical, educational and occupational consequences as a result of her experience at Lake Alice Hospital where she was misdiagnosed and incorrectly treated with ECT and antipsychotic medication”.

“These adverse consequences have had a dramatic and chronic effect on her life over a period of two years.”

In 1994 she took proceedings against Leeks and the Attorney-General.

She made a claim for $1.5m compensation, costed due to her unlawful admission, drugging, ECT, seclusion and how she was violated, and a loss of educational and career opportunities.

As Leeks was living overseas it made the process difficult.

Eventually he denied any wrongdoing and claimed the statute of limitations prevented seeking any damages.

There was later an agreement the parties would try to resolve the proceedings by mediation.

A meeting was set up for June/July 1998 between McInroe and Leeks, along with another of his former patients who was seeking redress, however her lawyers were informed by the Crown it must be kept secret or the mediation would be called off.

The mediation was a “nightmare”, McInroe said.

She now understands she was suffering from PTSD.

She was also alarmed at the “overwhelming number of Crown representatives present”.

“I felt just as intimidated and vulnerable as I had experienced being in Lake Alice … I was absolutely petrified being in the same room with Dr Leeks again.”

Afterwards though she felt hope and felt the evidence was so strong finally Leeks and the people who put him in power would be exposed and criminal justice and fair compensation would be realised for all plaintiffs.

“How could there not be justice with so much evidence. This is New Zealand. We have a fair and honest justice system.”

But the next several years was “prolonged trauma” with “strategic, intentional delay and tactics from the Crown”.

“The longer it went on seemed to be fully defending Leeks.

“I found the Crown’s behaviour appalling and indefensible. I eventually came to believe the Crown behaved in a way described best as trickery.”

She received a confidential settlement in 2002, far below what she had originally claimed.

She also received apologies from the Crown and then-Prime Minister Helen Clark, which were “very impersonal”.

But McInroe was still waiting for accountability for Leeks, and the accountability of those who let him do what he was doing.

She also called for fair compensation for Lake Alice survivors, proper heartfelt apologies, and evidence steps are being taken for this to never occur again.

“It took nine gruelling and fraught years to obtain compensation for my cruel and unlawful treatment by Dr Leeks.

“However, even then I never received closure because Dr Leeks and those who supported him were not held accountable through the criminal justice system.

“Neither did his profession take any steps that I’m aware of for what he did.

“For me and the other vulnerable children and young adults unfortunate enough to end up in Lake Alice.

“I believe that he was fully protected by the Crown and other survivor voices were ignored.”

It was irrelevant Leeks was now in his 90s, she said.

“He has had a free life for over 50 years not being held to account.

“Those of us who were subjected to his unlawful, brutal treatment have suffered for the 50 years he has been living freely. We carry this as our life sentence.

“He must be brought back to New Zealand and face his accusers.

“Only that will bring closure for me.”

NZ Psychiatrist Selwyn Leeks