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UN asks Govt to re-open hospital abuse probe

Villa 11at Lake Alice Hospital. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Villa 11at Lake Alice Hospital. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The United Nations has sent the Government a please-explain letter over the stalled police investigation into claims of child torture at the former Lake Alice psychiatric hospital.

The UN's committee against torture has raised concerns over the police decision to end its investigation in 2009 without prosecuting any staff of the now-closed hospital near Wanganui.

Ex-patients and the Citizens Commission on Human Rights - a psychiatry watchdog linked to the Church of Scientology - complained to the UN over what they consider a lack of justice for victims.

A representative of the UN committee, Felice Gaer, asks in her letter if the Government "intends to carry out an impartial investigation into the nearly 200 allegations of torture and ill-treatment against minors at Lake Alice" and prosecute and punish the perpetrators.

She asks if there will be an independent review of the "sufficiency" of the police investigation, if there will be a probe into claims the police failed to interview some complainants, and if the investigation will be re-opened.

A Justice Ministry spokeswoman said last night the Government would respond but declined to give an indication of what it might say.

Ex-patient Paul Zentveld yesterday rejoiced at what he took as the support of the world body.

"I said we were going to the UN and everyone laughed. Three and a half years later and look at this. I'm so happy," said Mr Zentveld, 51, who was admitted to the hospital's child and adolescent unit five times between the ages of 12 and 16.

He told the committee in a letter that he had been tortured at the unit, which operated from 1972 to 1977 under the authority of psychiatrist Dr Selwyn Leeks.

Dr Leeks, who later shifted to Melbourne, was about to face a charge of unprofessional conduct from a Victorian medical authority but surrendered his medical licence on the eve of the hearings in 2006. Separately, an Australian court ordered him to pay $55,000 in damages to a woman patient for sexually abusing her.

In 2001, the Government began apologising and paying compensation, which eventually exceeded $10 million, to more than 180 former Lake Alice child patients, including $115,000 for Mr Zentveld.

A report by retired High Court judge Sir Rodney Gallen said they had been subjected to a behaviour modification programme which he labelled a regime of "terror".

More than 30 victims made complaints to the police against Dr Leeks and other former staff members. But the police decided they had no evidence of criminal offending.

IN HOSPITAL

Lake Alice Hospital child and adolescent unit:

* Operated 1972-77
* Patients subjected to electric shock "therapy" as behaviour modification
* They say it was a form of torture
* Retired judge said it was "terror"
* 2001 - Government apologises, pays compensation
* 2009 - police cease investigation, no prosecutions
* 2012 - UN seeks answers.

- NZ Herald

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