State abuse inquiry: Royal Commission hears maltreatment patients at Lake Alice endured

Warning: This story contains details that may disturb some people.

A hearing into abuse at Lake Alice is underway with victims describing the horrific maltreatment they were forced to endure.

The two-week hearing into the notorious psychiatric facility began on Monday, and the Royal Commission into State Abuse heard how children at Lake Alice received electric shocks to their body and painful muscular injections as forms of punishment.

As a teenager, Hake Halo was marked by a state psychiatrist, calling him an "uncontrollable animal".

Halo was one of more than 300 children and adolescents placed into state care at Lake Alice.

The Royal Commission heard how patients were subject to electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, as punishment for bad behaviour.

"The head, the limbs, even the genitals, no anesthetic was administered before the administration of those shocks," says lead investigation counsel Andrew Molloy.

Halo says he would be held down by workers at the facility and each shock felt like a sledgehammer to the head.

"Without a mouthguard, a person would end up biting their tongue off," Halo says.

Halo was the first to give evidence, and over the next two weeks, 17 survivors will share how they were subject to physical and sexual abuse at the facility. That included receiving painful paraldehyde injections to keep them in line. 

"Posed as treatments but which were administered without therapeutic intent and with the very opposite of therapeutic effect," Molloy says.

The man administering ECT was psychiatrist Selwyn Leeks, who continued to work even after complaints were laid against him. 

"Worse still, the Medical Council of New Zealand gave Dr Leeks a certificate of good character, enabling him to practice another 28 years," says lawyer Frances Joychild.

The Royal Commission heard how parents hadn't given informed consent for ECT. Halo tried to inform his mum with a coded stick figure drawing and a small Niuean message.

"They only said they were taking me to a school, nothing about psychiatry," Halo says.

More than 40 years on, Halo says he's happy to share his story to help others who were in his situation come forward.