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Police apologise to Lake Alice survivors for failure to properly investigate

Police have apologised to Lake Alice survivors, saying they failed to properly investigate all allegations of criminal activity at the psychiatric hospital's child and adolescent unit.

Lake Alice Hospital. Source: Pawful/Wikimedia Commons

Director of criminal investigations, Thomas John Fitzgerald, made the statement before the Royal Commission of Inquiry into abuse in state care in Auckland this afternoon; during week two of the hearings into what went on at the unit in the 1970s, under the management of Dr Selwyn Leeks. 

"The New Zealand Police accept that in the 2002 to 2010 period police did not accord sufficient priority and resources to the investigation of allegations of criminal offending." 

The child and adolescent unit closed in 1978 in the face of public criticism over the use of electroshock therapy, but no one person has ever been held to account. Leeks moved to Australia that same year.

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They say they failed to properly investigate all allegations of criminal activity at the children’s unit. Source: 1 NEWS

There have been several investigations into what went on behind closed doors at Lake Alice; starting in 1977 with an Ombudsman investigation deeming ECT treatment was "possibly unlawful".

Survivors over the last two weeks have described being given electroconvulsant therapy while awake as punishment. Others have described being sexually abused. One woman, Sharyn Collins, alleged it was the former psychiatrist who raped her. 

Two police investigations, one in 1977 and another from 2002 to 2010 both ended with no charges being laid. Another one, launched in 2018 is still going. 

Today's apology acknowledged the two early investigations fell short and that a failure to put enough resources and priority into establishing what went on had resulted in "unacceptable delays" and "not all allegations were thoroughly investigated". 

"The police wish to apologise to the Lake Alice survivors for these failings," Fitzgerald said. 

He described other issues with the investigations, including the loss of around 14 victim statements, during 2002 to 2006. 

"The police are committed to assessing policy and how national investigations are resourced ... to ensure this does not happen again," Fitzgerald said.