Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Psychiatric "Regime of Terror"
National News

New probe looks into Lake Alice
 By Martin Johnston
An Australian medical authority has begun interviewing former Lake Alice Hospital patients, over their claims that they were mistreated under the regime of psychiatrist Dr Selwyn Leeks.

The Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria is preparing for a formal hearing into the allegations against Dr Leeks, who headed the child and adolescent unit of the hospital near Wanganui.

Former patients, aged 8 to 16 when at the unit, were subjected a form of behaviour-modification treatment that a report by retired judge Sir Rodney Gallen labelled a regime of "terror".

They told Sir Rodney they were punished for misbehaviour by electric shock therapy without anaesthetic or muscle relaxant, solitary confinement and painful injections of paraldehyde. Some alleged they were sexually abused by staff or patients.
The medical board's lawyers have contacted former patients of the unit, which operated from 1972 to 1977, when Dr Leeks left. He has since practised psychiatry in Melbourne.

"They have interviewed New Zealand victims," said Steve Green, executive director of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a psychiatric patients support group.

"They are also interviewing ex-staff. They have managed to track down a few of them. We have been assisting as much as we can."

Dr Leeks, invited by the Herald to speak about his time at Lake Alice, said from Melbourne yesterday: "I think that's been given a lot of coverage, not altogether accurate."

Asked how he would like to correct that, he said: "That's unlikely to happen, but that's all," and hung up.
The medical board, whose mandate is to protect the public, believes it has jurisdiction to investigate the New Zealand events. It could prevent Dr Leeks from practising medicine.

Former patient Paul Zentveld welcomed the decision to hold a formal hearing, for which no date has yet been set. "They are finally doing something that the New Zealand Government should have done 28 years ago. It should not be the Australians' problem."

Mr Green said that although the Government had apologised to former patients and paid compensation, former staff who mistreated patients had not been held responsible.

The Government paid $10.7 million to 183 former patients based on Sir Rodney's report. He read their statements and interviewed a number, but did not hear from ex-staff - concluding that the former patients' accounts were mostly true.
Twenty former patients have complained to police that their mistreatment amounted to crimes of assault and cruelty against children.

Mr Green said police were taking too long to decide whether to lay charges and seek Dr Leeks' extradition. Police have said their investigation is taking a long time because the events happened so long ago.


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