Hundreds Of Former Institution Residents Bring Forward Abuse Claims;
Police Reopen Probe Into Boy's Death
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
June 14, 2004
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND--More than 200 former patients of psychiatric institutions across New Zealand have come forward to report what one official called "systemic abuse" during the 1960s and 1970s.
The former patients, most of whom were between 8 and 16 years of age at the time of the alleged abuse, recently told Wellington attorneys Sonja Cooper and Roger Chapman of their treatment.
Nearly 70 legal claims have already been filed in the High Court, each asking for up to $500,000 in compensation and up to $50,000 in exemplary damages, the New Zealand Herald reported. Another 40 cases are close to being filed.
Some former staff members have also come forward to report that they also witnessed the abuses.
The allegations include rape, physical assault, extended isolation, humiliation, along with the use of "electric-shock" treatments and medications as punishment.
One woman who was admitted to Tokanui mental hospital for depression at age 18, claimed that she was beaten and raped more than once by staff members and punished with electro-convulsive therapy.
"When I told a staff member they said that sort of thing just didn't happen there," she said.
A former patient of Auckland's Oakley Hospital said he was admitted in 1971 at age 11 after he broke out of solitary confinement at a boy's home. Now 45, he has filed a claim saying that he was in solitary confinement at Oakley -- one time for six months -- and only allowed a daily walk in the yard. He also complained that he was given unnecessarily large doses of medications to sedate and control him.
The claims by one former patient of Kingseat Hospital, south of Auckland, have prompted Manukau police to reopen a 1968 murder case.
Stephen Lindsay, who was 14 at the time, has accused a male nurse of beating and kicking 11-year-old Clement Matthews after the boy took a piece of bread from a plate.
"Clem hit the floor with a hell of a thud," Lindsay said. "The nurse then kicked him hard in his back and I heard something snap."
A few hours later, Clement was found dying in his locked room. A coroner later ruled that he died of pneumonia after a pathologist found no external marks of violence.
Until recently officials had believed the abuse was confined to two former institutions. As more claimants came forward this past week, however, nearly all of the country's psychiatric hospitals had been implicated.
Most of the facilities either are closed or no longer operate as mental institutions.
On Monday, Prime Minister Helen Clark said the Government is looking into the possibility of dealing with the complaints through mediation, but that more time is needed to gather information before deciding on what approach to take.
"The complaints are running across a number of institutions, a number of different types of complaints," she said.
"[They are] very, very serious allegations so a consistent approach will need to be taken to dealing with them."
Related stories from The New Zealand Herald:
"Woman recalls Tokanui trauma"
"More patients say they were abused in asylums"
"Police re-open boy's hospital death case after 36 years"