It's time to move on, says Lake Alice child patient

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.

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."

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."

The Dominion Post