HEALTH MINISTER Bill English ‘HORRIFIED’ BY LAKE ALICE
The National Business Review -18 Dec 1998
BY JOCK ANDERSON
Tales of terror and torture of children at Lake Alice mental hospital emerged from a Dominion newspaper inquiry and in a TV3 20/20 documentary more than 16 months ago.
It was not the first time media exposure had detailed and questioned the strange goings on at Lake Alice.
But in earlier years allegations were swept under the carpet because the hospitals and their staff were deemed to be right and beyond reproach.
The former child patients from the 1970s whose shocking stories were told, particularly on television on July 8, 1997, changed that.
Now lawyers were talking to former patients and gathering chilling stories of their experiences. They wanted someone to pay.
The next morning a clearly shaken and genuinely concerned Health Minister Bill English told National Radio’s Kim Hill he was horrified by what he saw on television.
The people who told their stories would have been his age, Mr English said.
“When I was getting on the school bus and having a healthy, secure childhood, these people were being terrorised…,” he said.
Mr English said he had no reason to disbelieve the former patients.
“The descriptions that they talked about of the places and the feelings and the fear, I found just awful,” he said.
He said Lake Alice was being closed because it held a lot of terrible memories for a lot of New Zealanders.
He described what he saw on television as cutting across “all our concepts of the dignity of New Zealand citizens”.
Mr English said the state should not hide behind a whole lot of “legalisms”.
He said the things that happened at Lake Alice in the 1970’s -carried out under the power and protection of the state -would not be allowed to happen today.
Some of the claims made by former Lake Alice patients are barely believable. These were
children aged generally between 12 and 15.
The 20/20 documentary detailed the experiences of former patients subjected to ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) and paraldehyde drug injections.
One man claimed punishment time with “the doctor” was 1 pm on Saturday.
He claimed his punishment was getting ECT, which he likened as having two Black and Decker drills on either side of his head, in pain, eyes clenched tight, tears rolling down and light going through his eyes.
Another told of allegedly curling up on the floor trying to hide when they saw a doctor’s van come up the street.
One patient claimed a boy caught masturbating was electrocuted on the penis.
One told of a patient who allegedly made homosexual assaults on others and how staff allegedly allowed other patients to “zap” him with the ECT machine.
The $38 million claim against the Crown, prepared on behalf of 76 former Lake Alice patients by Christchurch lawyer Grant Cameron, relies on this kind of evidence.
It relies on adult men and women, some of whom say they should never have been in Lake Alice hospital, standing up and demanding the Crown compensate them for the alleged state-inflicted horrors of their childhood.
Fourth Estate Holdings Ltd (546 words)