Lake Alice abuse: Police's formal apology for major failings 'means nothing' - survivor

The Police's formal apology for their major failings in their investigation into the Lake Alice psychiatric hospital "means nothing", a survivor says.

The apology related to work by them between 2002 and 2010, where detectives not only failed to investigate serious allegations thoroughly, they lost key witness statements given to them by survivors.

"The police wish to apologise to Lake Alice survivors for these failings," says Detective Superintendent Tom Fitzgerald, police criminal investigations director.

"The Police are committed to assessing policy and how national investigations are resourced and are committed to ensuring that this does not happen again."

It's the first time police have apologised so publicly. Not only was their first investigation too narrow, but they also didn't commit enough resources to it. That delayed the outcome which in the end recommended no charges be laid.

In 2018, police began a new inquiry into Lake Alice. But during the earlier one, a lawyer gave 34 witness statements from survivors detailing their abuse.

"It appears 14 or 15 of those statements may have been lost," Fitzgerald says.

The officer who led the first investigation says a decision was made not to commit a full team to the inquiry.

"The resourcing issue was a very live one. I don't think it was ever intended that the preliminary inquiry was going to take three years," says Malcolm Burgess, former Assistant Police Commissioner.

Burgess also told the Royal Commission into State Abuse that police failed to investigate allegations staff at Lake Alice used injections of paraldehyde - a sedative - as punishment. 

Many survivors were present for the explanations and apology on Thursday.

But for some, the apology means zilch.

Paul Zentveld.
Paul Zentveld. Photo credit: Newshub.

"I would be using it as a dart and firing it out the window - it means nothing,'' says Lake Alice survivor Paul Zentveld.

Zentveld has never wavered in his quest for justice. As a 13-year-old, Dr Selwyn Leeks regularly punished him for wetting his bed with unmodified electroconvulsive therapy, which is shock treatment without anesthetic.

"To the head, on the knee, and then on the groin, and then on the testicles," Zentveld says.

On one occasion after he had a pillow fight with others, a nurse injected him with a sedative in a syringe.

"And he was throwing them one at a time at our backsides - like darts."

When the police didn't lay charges, Zentveld went to the UN Committee Against Torture. His complaint was upheld.

"It was just straight torture and this is what my review said at the UN," he says.

Zentveld now works as a fisherman, and like a good fisherman, he's patient but perseveres - attributes that extend to his mission for accountability and truth when it comes to Lake Alice.

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