Extended cut: UN to investigate New Zealand's 'national shame'

This is an uncut and extended version of Newshub Nation's investigation into historic abuse of children at Lake Alice psychiatric hospital, for the broadcast version click here

It's a case like no other, with a trail of allegations dating back 40 years. 

Nearly two hundred people claim to have been abused as children at Lake Alice psychiatric hospital in rural Manawatu in the 1970s.

The disgraced doctor at the centre of these allegations, Dr Selwyn Leeks, has never been brought to trial. 

But there is some hope on the horizon, as next week the United Nations committee on torture will consider the complaint of one of the survivors.

The committee can then make non-binding determinations on whether New Zealand adequately responded to what happened at Lake Alice.

Newshub Nation has investigated for the past three years to uncover why, decades later, the survivors are still waiting for justice.  

Below are the official responses, in full, received by Newshub Nation in the course of this investigation. 

Justice Minister Andrew Little and Attorney-General David Parker 

It would be inappropriate for either Minister to comment on a case that will also be considered by the Royal Commission on Abuse in State Care.

Crown Law and Ministry of Health 

The Ministry acknowledges that many former Lake Alice patients and their families have concerns about their past experiences. The Crown has provided settlements and letters of apology to acknowledge that patients who were resident in the Lake Alice Child and Adolescent Unit between 1972 and 1977 received unacceptable treatment, and as such signalled an important step towards helping to put right a shameful episode of the past. This action removed the need for claimants to prove harm in court. 

The Ministry has cooperated with Police investigations into these matters, and will continue to do so as required. The Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care is currently holding its Contextual Hearing, which is hearing evidence of abuse in psychiatric institutions including Lake Alice. It will hear further evidence from abuse in care survivors from these institutions at later hearings. 

The experiences of those who experienced abuse in care, including at Lake Alice, is a key focus of the inquiry. At the outset of the Royal Commission’s contextual hearing last week, the Crown reiterated its commitment to helping the Commission deliver meaningful outcomes for historic abuse survivors, along with applying any lessons that are relevant to today’s care systems. The Crown is committed to a common set of six principles guiding all aspects of its engagement with the Royal Commission and survivors to ensure that the vulnerable are heard and valued and that the inquiry process is respected and supported.


Between 2002 and 2010 Police conducted an extensive investigation into allegations of abuse made by former patients of Lake Alice Psychiatric Hospital. This investigation was carried out by a Detective Superintendent in accordance with Police investigation protocols, and involved a number of interviews with former staff members and the assessment of specialist opinions, including independent legal opinions.

No prosecution was commenced because after consideration of the Solicitor General’s prosecution guidelines, it was determined that “there was no realistic prospect that a criminal prosecution can be successful

Police are currently investigating two complaints from former Lake Alice patients in relation to the use of electro-convulsive therapy. The investigation, which commenced in early 2019, is complex and concerns historical allegations, and will involve assessing a number of specialist opinions before decisions can be made. 

New Zealand Medical Council 

Dr Curtis Walker, Chair of the Medical Council of New Zealand:

We would like to acknowledge the ongoing trauma and long-term suffering that Dr Leek’s patients have experienced for many years.

The Council is not in a position to comment on the actions taken by the Council of 1977 due to the significant passage of time, and significantly altered legislative environment under which the Council of 1977 was operating compared with 2019.

The alleged actions would not be deemed acceptable under any circumstances.

Today, the Code of Patients’ Rights which followed Cartwright Inquiry and became law in 1996 clearly and simply lays out the safeguards to protect all patients receiving health and disability services in New Zealand. You may wish to contact Jane King, the Chief Legal Adviser at the Health and Disability Commission for an opinion on how the Code of Patients’ Rights may have applied in this case.

Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists 

As the RANZCP has previously acknowledged, there has been harm caused by past mental health practices. Certain treatments were provided without an evidence base and may also have been used inappropriately causing distress or harm to patients.

More specifically with respect to the individual practices of psychiatrists, our current position is that we are opposed to the use of sexual orientation change efforts of any kind.

The RANZCP also acknowledges that psychiatrists have a critical role to play in acknowledging historical practices and committing to learn from them. This includes being open to constructive questioning of current mental health practices which may have harmful consequences.

For more information on this, please see Position Statement 84: Acknowledging and learning from past mental health practices.  

The RANZCP is not a regulatory authority and is not in a position to re-adjudicate such matters.

Matters such as these are decisions that must be made by the appropriate regulatory bodies e.g. courts and tribunals. The RANZCP has the authority to make decisions on the membership status of individuals but not about an individual’s ability to practice, for this we rely on the decisions of regulatory bodies.

Newshub Nation.