Crown Law Office failed to provide significant evidence to police investigations on Lake Alice
Government legal advisers, the Crown Law Office, failed to provide meaningful evidence to two police investigations into the adolescent unit at Lake Alice Psychiatric Hospital which was operating in the 1970s.
In 1995, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the University of Auckland, Dr John Werry, provided a report to Leoni McInroe for his ACC claim related to Lake Alice. Werry based her expert opinion on McInroe’s medical notes and concluded that what she experienced at Lake Alice was not medical treatment but medical error and medical mishap.
In McInroe’s understanding, Crown Law has had this report in its possession since 1995, when its attorneys provided it as evidence in civil proceedings. Things asked Crown Law several questions, including whether it had leaked the document to two subsequent police investigations but, other than an acknowledgment of the emailed questions and the attached deadline, was not answered.
There have now been three police investigations into events at the unit – one in 1977, another between 2003 and 2010, and one which has just been completed. One of the main objectives of these inquiries was to find out whether the methods used by the senior psychiatrist, Dr Selwyn Leeks and his team, were medical treatment or punishment. At the heart of this question was the use of electric shocks administered to children with an ECT machine.
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Police repeatedly referred to Leeks’ claim that the methods he used were medical treatment and the 1977 and 2010 inquiries found there was insufficient evidence to lay criminal charges . However, the recent investigation found that there was enough evidence to charge Leeks, but that he was medically unfit to stand trial.
The Werry report made it clear that this was not medical treatment but medical error and medical mishap, McInroe said.
In Werry’s summary at the end of the report, he states:
“I therefore conclude that from the data available to me there is clear evidence of a medical accident due to medical error resulting from, 1 / an inaccurate diagnosis, 2 / inadequate diagnostic and progression procedures, 3 / a very insufficient documentation by Dr Leeks of his reasons for the treatments, 4 / the type of treatments and the reasons given for the treatments prescribed (ECT, neuroleptics in antipsychotic dose [especially fluphenazine decanoate], chlorpromazine, paraldehyde and isolation), all constitute medical error and medical mishap.
Police did not get the report until McInroe forwarded it to the investigation in August 2020 along with other documents. Police had obtained over 46,000 documents from the Crown, but McInroe had been told the police did not have a copy of Werry’s report and had not heard from her.
Police opened their investigation in January 2020 after the United Nations found New Zealand in violation of the Convention against Torture and called for a full investigation.
Police said last week that they had found enough evidence to lay charges against Leeks, but he would not be charged as he is medically unfit to stand trial. He is 92 years old and has been diagnosed with dementia.
McInroe filed a civil action against Leeks and the Crown in 1994, and the Werry Report was included as evidence during legal proceedings. McInroe’s lawyers had to sue the Crown twice in court to obtain the documents to which they were entitled, and Crown Law secretly sent Leeks to New Zealand from Australia for a mediation meeting in 1999. The litigation continued. nine years, but an out-of-court settlement with a victims class action group effectively quashed his claim, even though McInroe had filed his first.
During her appearance at the Royal Commission, Solicitor General Una Jagose apologized to McInroe for the delays and the way she was treated by Crown Law during the Lake Alice litigation.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, a former Lake Alice staff member appeared in Whanganui District Court on eight counts, including injecting children with a strong sedative in Lake Alice in the 1970s. The 89-year-old, whose name was deleted on an interim basis for seven days, pleaded not guilty and went to a jury trial.
The Royal Commission on Abuse in Care will release its interim report at noon on Wednesday.