Those who suffered as children at Manawatu psychiatric hospital to share their stories

Almost fifty years on from their abuse at the hands of the state, some of the “Children of Lake Alice” will be sharing their stories, as part of the Royal Commission Inquiry into Abuse in Care.

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The children of Lake Alice Psychiatric Hospital will be giving their evidence. Source: 1 NEWS

It’s hoped their stories, alongside expert and witness testimony will reveal the full extent of what went on at the child and adolescent unit at Lake Alice Hospital - a rural psychiatric facility in the Manawatu-Whanganui region.

The inquiry, which is part of the investigation into abuse in psychiatric care, offers the first comprehensive investigation into just what went on inside that unit.

Tuesday - day two of the hearings set down till early July - marks 49 years to the day since Tyrone Marks entered Lake Alice.

Still recovering from a car accident, just four months earlier, he was taken from the boys’ home he was in, to the hospital.

“The guy that dropped me off was just a groundsperson in the boys home I was in,” he says. “He told me he’d be there for ten minutes and he never came back.”

He was first admitted into the adult section of the hospital, where severely mentally ill and criminally insane patients were kept.

Over the years he faced what he describes as torture and abuse at the hands of the state.

“It was the worst time, the worst place I had ever experienced,” he says. “The amount of trauma and fear, I’d just never seen [that before].”

One of his worst memories is of the fear, waiting for when his next dose of the controversial electro-shock therapy would be delivered.

“It is kind of like the electric chair,” he describes. “Even though the voltage is somewhat lower, it’s just that fear of doing it. It’s very, very painful and it can cause fractures... and it can actually kill you.”

At some points he thought it would just never end.

“People say you should get over it, that was a long time ago,” he says. “But it’s something you’ll never get over, it’s tattooed into your body.”

The unit, which opened in 1972, closed six years later, in the face of public criticism over the use of electroshock therapy. It’s thought more than 300 children were admitted to the unit in the 1970s - many of whom describe being tortured and held against their will.

Since 1977 there have been three police investigations relating to Lake Alice and several official inquiries. Another police investigation which opened in 2018 is still ongoing.

The state has also acknowledged the abuse that went on and offered several payouts totalling millions of dollars - but no-one has ever been charged.

Aaron Smale is a researcher and award-winning journalist who has done a series of investigations into the abuse that went on in state care and how the crown has responded over the years.

He says the hearings are a significant step for those who have long been asking for accountability.

“They were children, who had been removed by the state from their families,” he says. “The state had a duty of care and it utterly failed them, so that’s the significance of this hearing.”

Smale says despite the years of inquiries and police investigations no-one has ever been charged.

“I just can’t quite work out why that has never happened,” he says. “If I inflicted that kind of torture and abuse on my children I’d be in jail and yet for years nobody has been held accountable.”

Andrew Molloy who is the lead counsel assist to the Royal Commission of Inquiry says as a starting point the hearings will give people a voice and find them answers.

“We want to have a really good understanding of what happened from the people who were there,” he says.

"We are hoping to get a little further along the line of understanding why state institutions reacted the way they did, or failed to react the way they perhaps should have.”