Lake Alice abuse: Former nurse reveals 'barbaric and cruel' practices used as 'treatment'

Warning: This story contains details about abuse at Lake Alice Hospital.

A nurse who worked at the Lake Alice psychiatric hospital in the 1970s has described finding a boy tied up in a laundry bag and others being shocked until they fell unconscious in a practice he calls "barbaric and cruel".

Brian Stabb, a former psychiatric nurse at the facility, says the boys at Lake Alice referred to Friday as "Black Friday" - it was the day Dr Selwyn Leeks came to administer electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). 

"It was clear from the frequency of the residents yelling that this was not standard ECT treatment. It lasted for periods of 15 to 20 minutes with around 20 to 30 separated shocks," he says.

Stabb claims he never delivered such treatment personally, but says Leeks practiced unmodified ECT using a machine called ectonus, leaving patients unconscious.

"I consider this to be a barbaric and cruel practice, which would have been as damaging to those giving it as those receiving it," he says.

"There was no way this treatment could be rationalised as a legitimate treatment. It was torture."

Stabb came to New Zealand from England where he'd also witnessed the use of ECT. But he says treatment at Lake Alice was not documented, controlled, or monitored. 

He discovered other disturbing practices, like finding a boy tied up in a laundry bag who he then let out.

"I asked what was wrong with the boy. I was told that he had behavioural problems and that this was part of his treatment. The staff member concerned returned him to the bag."

Asked why he didn't make a formal complaint, he said he feared losing his job. 

"I was asked to sign the Official Secrets Act and throughout my time at Lake Alice, I was under the impression that any sort of whistleblowing would ... result in my prosecution."

Stabb claims shock treatment was not used as an organised punishment while he worked there between 1974 and 1976, but former residents have testified that it was dished out for minor infractions like smoking.