Saturday, April 17, 2010

ZenTiger Dwelling in the Past at Lake Alice

A former child patient of Lake Alice psychiatrist Selwyn Leeks says she is sick of reading the same stories complaining about him and the hospital in the 1970s.

"It should finish now," the 52-year-old says. "I was there when I was 13, 14, 15, and Leeks was my doctor too."

The woman acknowledges terrible things happened at Lake Alice and that the boys were treated more harshly than the few girls, but harking back to it all the time made recovery impossible, she says.

This month police said they would not try to charge Dr Leeks, now aged about 80, based on the complaints of 40 former patients.

Complainants say they have been denied a public inquiry of alleged mistreatment and abuse at the hospital near Marton [New Zealand].

Although other staff were also accused, complainants focused on wanting Dr Leeks charged because he headed the adolescent unit until 1978. Dr Leeks then moved to Australia and the unit closed.

Dozens of former patients still have civil claims against the Crown awaiting hearing in the High Court. In 2001-2002 the government apologised to 180 former patients and they shared about $10 million after a High Court judge's inquiry.

"I got a payment, but what is it? It's dirty money," says the woman, who wants the case closed. "They contacted me. I didn't put a claim in."

She had been persuaded to accept $63,000 after initially not wanting to be involved.

Even though she and her family needed money at the time she gave half to the Salvation Army. She did not want to buy anything lasting from the rest that would remind her of the past.

"If I bought something with it, it would be a memory of what happened. It was not going to change what had happened, help me move on."

The woman says she was sent to Lake Alice because she was a state ward and there was nowhere else for her to go. "We all had horror stories in our own lives before we got there."

She was given electro-convulsive treatment, or shock treatment for nightmares.

"I would have terrible pictures of things from my past, even during the day. And I could smell things [from the past]."

The treatment blotted out her memories. Eventually they returned but she found them easier to deal with.

"I don't think I could have got over what I had without ECT. It seems to clear your mind out. I felt more able to cope with the memories when they came back gradually."

Some things should not have happened, she says. The social welfare department should never have put children in a psychiatric hospital. "We were like the lost children but there was nowhere else for us to go."
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ECT should not have been used experimentally on children. She does not remember anyone saying at the time that they had electric shocks applied to their genitals.

"The thing we were robbed of most, for those of us there a long time, was social skills. We did not have a lot of contact with the outside world so we had our own code of right and wrong."

But she also has good memories of Lake Alice. The children lived there as a family, they got an education, played softball and had movie nights.

She does not remember Dr Leeks as he is now portrayed in the complaints. "I am sick of reading the same stories. There was another side to that. He did the best with what he had.

"There was a gentle side to Selwyn. He would come and play sports with us after dinner and Mrs Leeks would come and take me to her place. I think that was part of the plan getting ready for me to get out."

Dr Leeks gave her money – which she thought came from his own pocket – when she turned 16, put her on a bus to Auckland and told her to contact social welfare when she arrived.

If he had not done that, she would have been sent to Porirua psychiatric hospital, which he said would have been far worse for her.

Her life after Lake Alice was not straightforward. She got work but she also served a prison sentence for fraud. She was married and had children.

Psychotherapy helped her cope with the past. "It was not easy. I spent years and years getting over it."

She thinks the continuing complaints of former patients are holding them back, and they should stop dredging up history. "They are not doing anything with their lives. It should finish now.

"Selwyn's an old man. If he got to court, nothing would happen. It has gone round in circles. And who pays for all these things? We do as taxpayers, and nothing will come of it."

Via scoop: Lake Alice - Time To Move On and a Dom Post story today, made at the same time the editorial attacks the Catholic Church with an opinion piece that is high on opinion and low on fact. I'll cover that later, time permitting.

7 comment(s):

scrubone said...

I was looking through the Huffington Post's front page a few days ago, and there was a story about a swim coach just below the pope bashing.

Even the salvation army had people who abused youngsters. It's far from a catholic problem, and mishandling it isn't something unique to the catholic church.

ZenTiger said...

Indeed. There's a lot of things one could say about this article, both good and bad. I'll go into detail if people want to discuss it.

The big take away point, at this time is that I don't recall an editorial:

* making baseless and inflamatory accusations about this case
* demanding Dr Leeks is arrested and brought back for trial
* demanding the statute of limitations is increased (something some secular authorities are slow to do, but the Vatican did for it's own investigations)
* ridiculing anyone who makes a counter claim (indeed, look at this favourable story the DomPost runs with that suggests Dr Leeks was a nice guy (and he might be) and suggesting perhaps the people who want more compensation might not be telling the truth about genital electro therapy)
* suggesting the government needs to apologise for this treatment, in spite of the fact is has.
* indicating the government was about to send her to a worse place with worse repercussions (so where is the demand for a full investigation into Porirua Mental Ward in the 70's for it to have earned that reputation?)

There are apparently 40 active cases that the police are ready to dismiss. Is being ignored by secular authorities the reason people don't bother coming forward? Why no outcry of rage, as the newspapers revisit case after case from the 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's applying to the Church.

If the papers broaden their net that could find plenty of material to be outraged on behalf of children abused by the state, and use the same techniques of dressing opinion up as fact, and mixing enough truth with lies to appear correct on the face of it, and totally wrong in the detail.

Inventory2 said...

Sometimes justice has to be tempered with mercy. No-one will benefit from Selwyn Leeks being prosecuted, even though I have little doubt that he abused childen in his care. The trauma of reliving the Lake Alice years would be deeply disturbing to many of the victims, and exposing them to the possibility of brutal cross-examination seems callous.

And at the end of the day, I believe as a Christian that Selwyn Leeks will one day have to answer for any sins he's committed to someone who can punish him far harsher than anyone on this side of the grave.

ZenTiger said...

Sometimes justice has to be tempered with mercy.

But not when it's a 30 year old case in the Catholic Church, even after billions of dollars in payouts, apparently.

The latest story we covered at NZC was suggested by a UK paper as a "cover-up" despite the fact the man had been sent to the courts, and given 3 years probation on condition of therapy sessions.

Firstly, not a cover-up. Secondly, if the Courts thought 3 years probation was going to cure him, there might be more to it than the angle the papers took?

So surely, if the papers want to be consistent, they are ready to put these victims and potentially innocent 80 year old through trial by paper in order to sell papers and feel good about themselves?

Separately though, there are 40 people in this case who want justice. At the very least, with the Catholic Church and cases like this, the papers could cover the issues around the Statute of Limitations and explore some balanced debate about that.

Nathan said...

This article is ridiculous. It contradicts not only the article the Dominion did earlier this month but the work I do with past Lake Alice patients. What more truth needs to be told when a man and his colleagues abuse there power and the government has to pay out pitiful sums of money and send sorry letters. It's funny how the newspaper article doesn't mention the 'ex patients' name, that's because she doesn't exist, the Dominion has tried to right there wrongs with this article to make the govt happy. On the day you turned 16 it was common you were given $100 and you were on your own! Just had to share...

ZenTiger said...

Thanks Nathan. It appears you are saying there has been a deliberate attempt to minimise the issue, which squares with earlier reports.

The people suing for action need to keep it up then, despite the statute of limitations (particularly if some of these complaints were made years ago and not followed up).

Nathan said...

Cheers Zen, Yes I really do believe that is the case with the Dominion post. Reading both articles this can be seen...

Realistically the past patients (first round) atleast just want there fees back many who are still owed up to Fifty thousand grand. We know the government will never hold Leeks or any other staff member responsible. But Lake Alice is really the tip of the ice berg for the historic cases, I hope many others can receive compensation because that is about all there is for offer sadly.

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