Lake Alice doctor pre-empts tribunal

By Martin Johnston

Dr Selwyn Leeks, the psychiatrist accused of mistreating young patients at Lake Alice Hospital in the 1970s, has effectively handed in his medical licence, on the eve of a potentially damning disciplinary hearing.

The elderly doctor, who had been practising in Melbourne, was to go before a disciplinary panel, accused of unprofessional conduct.

If he had been found guilty his medical registration could have been revoked.

The hearing by the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria panel was to start on Wednesday.

A five-year investigation of complaints from 50 former patients found a case to answer in respect of 16.

But on Tuesday Dr Leeks, who is in his mid-70s, gave the board an undertaking that he would stop practising any form of medicine.

Board spokeswoman Nicole Newton said last night this was effectively an international ban because to be registered elsewhere Dr Leeks would need a certificate of good standing from the Victorian board.

If he tried to resume practising, the hearing would be re-activated.

Dr Leeks, who could not be contacted last night, headed the hospital's child and adolescent unit, which closed in the late 1970s.

In 2001, the Government gave apologies and compensation to a group of former patients of the unit. It later extended these to a second group, bringing to $10.7 million the total paid to 183 people.

This followed a report by retired judge Sir Rodney Gallen.

One of the complainants, a 45-year-old Auckland man, was last night jubilant, but would have preferred Dr Leeks to go through the hearing.

"The boys have been waiting nearly 30 years for this," said the man - who asked not to be named - in a reference to former patients.

He was admitted to Lake Alice, near Wanganui, several times between the ages of 11 and 16.

He was repeatedly punished with electro-convulsive therapy, painful drugs and solitary confinement for offences such as running away, throwing apples "and other boyish pranks".

The Citizens Commission on Human Rights, an anti-psychiatry group which uncovered abuses at Lake Alice in 1976 and has been helping with investigations since, said Dr Leeks had found an easy way out of the hearings after his "reign of terror on around 400 children, possibly as young as 4".

"This is the first time in nearly 30 years that so much evidence has been amassed in one place, including statements from victims and staff testifying to the brutality and fear they endured under Dr Leeks," said executive director Steve Green.

"It is up to the New Zealand police to see that justice is done for the victims of Lake Alice.

"Thirty-three people have filed criminal complaints so far."

The police are reviewing the complaints.

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