Lake Alice survivor's grim testimony of abuse and mistreatment at psychiatric hospital

For the first time today, Leonie McInroe has spoken out publicly about the abuse she encountered at Lake Alice psychiatric Hospital and the “gruelling” nine years it took to get compensation from the Crown.

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Leonie McInroe told the Royal Commission into abuse in state care her treatment was cruel and unlawful. Source: 1 NEWS

By Vandhna Bhan

“The irony that over the nine years my advocate for justice, the Crown, became the perpetrator,” McInroe told the Royal Commission of Inquiry into abuse in state care.

Born in 1961, McInroe was shortly adopted after birth by a couple in Waihi.

Her adoptive father died from cancer when she was 18-months-old and a few years later her adoptive mother died of heart disease.

McInroe was then placed in the Methodist Mission Orphanage in Auckland and a year later placed into foster care.

“I only learned in adult life that they never adopted me. They were paid to care for me out of the estate my parents had left for me," she says.

McInroe alleges she suffered physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her foster mum.

“I was never made to feel part of the family. I was made to sit alone in the kitchen to eat, whilst the family sat in the lounge," she says.

McInroe says her foster mum would often take her to see doctors and psychiatrists.

At the age of 12, McInroe first encountered Dr Leeks, a psychiatrist at Palmerston North Hospital.

Dr Leeks then placed McInroe as an in-patient in the adolescent unit at Lake Alice Hospital in July 1975.

She would then spend two periods in the hospital totalling 18 months, “as I understand it this was longer than any other Lake Alice survivor," she says.

Lake Alice Hospital

McInroe was diagnosed as having borderline schizophrenia. She says it was Dr Leeks “standard diagnosis for all the children".

During her time at Lake Alice Hospital she received so much medication she claims she “found it difficult to function".

She also received electro convulsive shock therapy (ECT) three time simply for being “naughty".

“I apparently did something else to upset Dr Leeks. He then said, “that’s it, you’re going to get shock treatment tonight" and I did.”

She recalls being fully conscious for these ECT sessions, all of which were conducted by Dr Leeks.

Drugged up, McInroe described how she spent lengthy periods in seclusion.

Once she was allowed out to her foster brother’s wedding, “I recall being so drugged up I felt humiliated. I wanted to hide away," she says.

She was never a smoker upon entering Lake Alice Hospital but claims to have walked out a nicotine addict.

Upon her second time in Lake Alice Hospital she was too old to go to school so instead she was made to work in nursing aid duties within the hospital.

“I was paid in cigarettes.”

Leonie's road to compensation

McInroe claims she was “so damaged” from her time at Lake Alice Hospital and her earlier childhood that she entered her adult life with a chronic lack of confidence and huge fear of authority.

Multiple doctors have written saying there was no clinical reason justifying McInroe's prolonged placement in the hospital, for her long term treatment with oral and injectable anti-psychotic medication and treatment with ECT.

“They had the evidence that showed that Dr Leeks had been giving me drugs and ECT without justification. They knew I was a victim," she says.

“I felt like a child and young person at Lake Alice again: repeatedly devalued, belittled, ignored, disregarded, humiliated, worthless, disrespected. It was happening all over again. I believed they would not have treated someone from a good background like that.”

In the mid-1990's McInroe's counsel made a claim of $1.5 million in compensation.

“I believe I deserved this amount, given what had happened to me – my losses were huge and I lived with them daily," she says.

That claim was disregarded.

By the late nineties, planned mediation was organised with McInroe, Dr Leeks and the Crown, but it came with a threat from Crown lawyers it could be called off.

“I was forbidden to tell anyone that Dr Leeks was coming into the country, I was forbidden to tell anyone he was going into mediation with me," she says.

“The mediation itself was a nightmare for me.”

“I felt just as intimated and vulnerable as I had experienced being in Lake Alice. I was absolutely petrified of being in the same room with Dr Leeks”.

McInroe did not realise that after the mediation there would be no offer of settlement and 5 more years of struggle for compensation from the Crown.

“The case was crawling along at a snail’s pace," she says.

The Crown also demanded for McInroe to hand over her personal journals to ascertain whether her current state of mind showed any signs of mental illness, justifying the treatment given to her by Dr Leeks.

“It makes me nauseous to this day thinking about the men and women, complete strangers with no connection or care about me, who could read my very private heartfelt words. Uninvited by me. It was an act of total violation towards me by the Crown," McInroe says.

A settlement offer finally came through but McInroe is unable to disclose the amount she settled on.

“I remember the shock and outrage of what I was offered. I was told I’m being offered more than most. I recall thinking it was this or nothing," she says.

She now regrets ever taking the settlement offer and would’ve rather seen Dr Leeks in court.

In 2001 and 2002 the Government settled claims with more than 190 former patients.

“The Crown had won. I had fought as long and hard as I was able. I had been abused but they had won," she says.

The only apology she received was that of the delays in progressing her case and what McInroe says was a “disconnected" letter from the Prime Minister at the time, Helen Clark.

“We, as vulnerable mental hospital child patients, treated in the most abhorrent and unlawful cruel manner, did not deserve full justice according to the Crown," McInroe says.

“Instead of compassion, justice, validation and an apology, I received nine gruelling years of emotional battering, abuse and bullying from the Crown”.

“I have no confidence in the Crown. I do not believe the Crown operates in integrity and fairness. I do not believe that in our justice system we are protected when the Crown is accused.”

“I had gained an impression from early on in the proceedings that the Crown were protecting Dr Leeks.”

Dr Leeks is now in his 90s.

“Those of us who were subjected to his unlawful brutal treatment have suffered for the 50 years he has been living freely. We carry this as our life sentence," McInroe says.

From here on

McInroe is now hoping to get proper, fair and just compensation for all Lake Alice survivors as a result of the Royal Commission of Inquiry.

She hopes to also receive a public apology from the Government.

McInroe believes the Government's tactics were underhand and her confidential payout was a pittance.

Police have re-opened their investigation into the historical abuse at Lake Alice, with Leeks in their sights.

"He must be brought back to New Zealand and face his accusers," McInroe says.