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Staff at Lake Alice Hospital's child and adolescent unit administered shock therapy and sexually assaulted at least 300 children. The unit was closed in 1978 following public outcry. The hospital was shut down in 1999.

Child torture victim endured shock therapy at New Zealand facilities

Shock therapy used as torture on children at Lake Alice Hospital is well documented. The practice continued at Auckland General Hospital as late as 1999.

Interview Subject
Malcolm Richards, 61, was subjected to forced Electrocurrent therapy (ECT) over 36 times during a three-month period at the Lake Alice psychiatric facility in 1975 and nine times, also over three months, at Auckland General Hospital in 1999.  

His permanent brain damage from ECT has prevented him from working, making friends, or otherwise living a normal life. 

Malcolm began campaigning for rehabilitation and compensation for victims of abuse in state care as well as reforms to how that care is administered in 2011. 

After being denied compensation by New Zealand’s Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) and two different Attorney Generals, Malcolm ratcheted up the pressure. 

In 2018, Malcolm Richards filed a torture claim with the United Nations, disclosing his medical records including burns to his penis as evidence. 

The UN served the New Zealand federal government with a legal notice on May 27, 2019. 

The Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in State Care, the highest level of investigation in the country, is largely underway because of Malcolm’s complaint to the UN and the petition he helped organize. 

Malcolm gave a deposition during a public hearing at the inquiry on June 14, 2021, and submitted 26 pages of evidence. 

All compensation from the ACC or otherwise is on hold until the conclusion of the inquiry. 
Background
The Lake Alice psychiatric facility’s Child and Adolescent Unit is known to have administered electrocurrent therapy and to have sexually abused over 300 children. 

The unit was run by Dr. Sewlyn Leeks from 1972 to 1978 before it was closed following public condemnation. 

No charges were ever laid in 1977 and Dr. Leeks fled to Australia immediately following the unit’s closure. 

Dr. Leeks’ lawyers say the former adolescent unit administrator, who is now in his 90s, is not fit to stand trial. 

A class-action lawsuit filed by Lake Alice survivors won a total compensation of $6.5 million NZD ($4.56 million USD) to 95 survivors, or $68,421 NZD ($47,955 USD) per person. 

Malcolm Richards was not one of them. 

In 2006 a criminal investigation was opened by the federal police and was closed in 2010, again without laying any charges

The 2021 Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in State Care includes the abuse at Lake Alice but also other instances where the government administered torture on the people it was charged with caring for. 

HASTINGS, New Zealand In New Zealand in 1975, left-handed school children were commonly forced to become right-handed. Being left-hand marked the beginning of my torture.

When I was 15 years old, my school teacher forced me to put my left hand behind my back and masturbate him with my right hand. 

As a result, I ran away from my home and ended up staying with my uncle. When my cousin asked me what happened, I showed him what my teacher had forced me into. 

My uncle came into the room and saw what I was demonstrating. He was enraged. 

Sent to a psychiatric hospital with no warning

After undergoing a psychiatric evaluation at North Hastings Hospital, a doctor determined I had schizophrenia. 

To this day, I have never received treatment for schizophrenia nor any subsequent diagnosis of the kind. 

No one told me where I was going or what would happen to me. That day, I was simply escorted by two large men in a vehicle to a rural compound. 

The Lake Alice Hospital child and adolescent psychiatric facility in Manawatū-Whanganui would later be understood as New Zealand’s most horrifying center for torture. 

When I arrived at Lake Alice, however, I never imagined the government would purposefully scar me for the rest of my life. 

There were about 20 single-story concrete buildings and a couple of two-story structures surrounded by a farm inside a perimeter of fortified wall. 

I was made to take off all my clothes when I arrived. They made me go through a bag of used clothes, pick out what was in my size, and wear them for the rest of my stay. 

The other patients, who I’d come to know as prisoners, ranged in age from pre-teens to adults in their 90s. 

While I was there, I shared the children’s ward with about 30 boys and 15 girls. 

Failed escape and a life-altering punishment

The other boys told me stories about the routine ​​electroconvulsive therapy at the facility, more commonly known as shock therapy. 

I tried to escape as soon as I heard the stories. Grabbing my clothes and leaving the facility was easy enough, but even if I had escaped, it would have been hours before I would have seen a passing car in Lake Alice’s remote, rural area. 

I was intercepted by staff in a car by the time I reached the gate. When they brought me back to the facility, I was put in a cell on the second floor of the dorms. 

Three nurses held me down in a hospital chair while my limbs were strapped in. Dr. Selwyn Leeks, who ran Lake Alice, entered the room and began administering the punishment procedure.  

A square box and instruments that looked like headphones were put on my legs and head. Currents of electricity were sent through my body, sending me convulsing in the bed. 

The shock treatment made me lose control of my bowels and I urinated on Dr. Leeks. 

The doctor then placed the headphone-looking instruments on my penis and ran electro currents directly through my most sensitive body part. I still have the scars. 

That single act of electric violence was enough to scare me away from ever trying to escape again.  

Attempted suicide after electrocution and rape

Unfortunately, the shock treatments continued anyway. 

All of the patients could hear when one of us was being medically electrocuted because it was happening on the second floor of our dormitory. 

We had regularly scheduled ​​electroconvulsive therapy every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on top of punishment for any matter of disobedience, like not talking during group therapy. 

I was at Lake Alice for three months, meaning I would have been medically tortured with electrocution over 36 times. 

The scheduled shock treatment would happen in a long room with all the patients, starting with the oldest and ending with the youngest. 

I saw the nurses putting cloths over some of the patients’ bodies.  I feared the rumors were true, that some patients died from electroconvulsive therapy and were buried in the vegetable garden. 

A rejection letter from the Accident Compensation Corporation detailing that Malcolm Richards was not eligible for compensation because the scars on his penis from shock therapy were incurred at the Lake Alice psychiatric facility.

When they reached me and shot currents through my nervous system I would writhe in pain until I saw static and heard the sound of bacon frying. I passed out every time. 

They’d put us in cells to recover after every session. One time I woke up to being raped. 

I couldn’t tell who it was, but as I awoke with a throbbing headache, typical of the post-session hours, I could feel the rape happening. 

It wasn’t until I’d come to and the rapist was gone that I actually realized what happened. I tried to kill myself using a bedsheet I tied to the emergency sprinkler on my bedroom ceiling as a noose. 

A staff member came in and cut me down. 

I ran away and told my story, but no one believed me

One of the more peculiar methods of punishment they had were injections of paraldehyde, which gave you searing internal pain within your muscles. 

The chemical was designed for controlling violent patients, but it was administered to us for simply not immediately complying. 

By the time the Christmas holidays came around, I was allowed to visit my family and the first chance I got, I ran away from home, this time for good. 

Dr. Sewlyn Leeks ran the Lake Alice Child and Adolescent Unit from 1972 to 1978 before he moved to Melbourne, Australia
upon the unit’s closure.

I lived under bridges for a while in the rural communities surrounding Hastings. Eventually, I started to get jobs on dairy farms, milking cows. 

My permanent brain damage from the electrocurrent therapy makes it impossible for me to concentrate or take instructions. Milking cows, however, is repetitive enough work that I was able to earn a living. 

I never made any friends and moved around a lot, always fearing I’d get found out and sent back to Lake Alice. My journeys took me from Maraetotara to well north of Auckland [a distance covering about 300 miles in New Zealand].  

When I was 20-years-old I worked up the courage to report what happened to the police. I was shaking and sweating through my testimony. The police threatened me with arrest. 

I would become accustomed to that kind of reaction from authorities at all levels in New Zealand, no matter how much evidence I provided. 

Imprisoned and given shock therapy once more

For 24 years I lived in fear of being sent back. In 1999, I was 34-years-old and living in Auckland when I again tried to end my life. 

The brain damage from the electrocurrent therapy and haunting memories of Lake Alice had become too much for me to handle. 

I downed as much of my medication as I could fit in my hand. My landlady found me after I ingested a potentially lethal cocktail. She called the ambulance and I was rushed to the hospital. 

A social worker found me shaking in fear at the hospital and asked me what I was afraid of. I told her I didn’t want to get sent back to Lake Alice, where I’d surely die from shock therapy.

The adolescent unit at Lake Alice had been closed since 1978, she told me, and the whole facility had closed earlier in 1999.  A wave of relief washed over me. 

I didn’t have to live in fear of being sent back to the place, which had continued to torment me with memories of electric convulsion. Sadly, the relief didn’t last long. 

I was committed to the Auckland General Hospital psychiatric ward where I was again the subject of torture. The shock therapy techniques had softened by 1999. 

I was given a series of muscle relaxers making me pass out before the medical team ran electric currents through my body. 

You still get the brain damage and throbbing headaches following the treatment, but the dramatic pain and convulsing during the operation are hidden under sedation. 

I was held there for three months and suffered shock therapy torture nine times. 

My release was without cause or logic, I was simply put on the street after an arbitrary period of institutionalization. 

Campaigning for change in psychiatric care

I tried moving on and forgetting my trauma, and for a while I did. 

Receipt from the New Zealand federal government’s Human Rights Treaties Branch upon being served by the United Nations for a torture complaint lodged by Malcolm Richards.

In 2011, the memories and nightmares came roaring back to me, taking over my life the way they did in my darkest moments. 

Getting acknowledgment for the abuse to change New Zealand law is fundamental to resolving my open mental wounds. 

I’ve never reentered society since 1975. 

I don’t have friends, I can’t make acquaintances, I’ve never been able to hold a steady job, and I can’t even follow a sports game because of my brain damage. 

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William Koblensky Varela has worked as a journalist in Toronto, Lisbon, and Waterloo, Ontario.

He’s covered community news, finance, North American politics, and viral media.

Will’s most recent experience was running a newsroom and publication house at the University of Waterloo and is now focusing on investigations for Orato.

Reach him here: news@orato.world