A complaint has been made to the Law Society about Solicitor-General Una Jagose after Crown Law withheld evidence from the police in a criminal investigation into the Lake Alice psychiatric hospital.

Lake Alice survivor Leoni McInroe has lodged the complaint with the society after reporting by Newsroom last year that showed Crown Law had withheld documents from a police investigation into Lake Alice. Crown Law did not provide her file to police, which included a medical report that showed the practices of Dr Selwyn Leeks were not medical treatment, they were medical misadventure.

Lake Alice was a psychiatric hospital for criminally insane adults and in the 1970s an adolescent unit was set up by Dr Selwyn Leeks that gained a notorious reputation for torturing children with electric shocks. But in the more than 50 years since it opened, no one has been held accountable.

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McInroe’s complaint to the Law Society asks it to investigate Jagose because of her ultimate responsibility for the decisions and actions of Crown Law which withheld the documents, despite a specific request from Police.

The complaint states: “The Solicitor-General holds the highest position in Crown Law which carries with it the responsibility and ultimate authority to prosecute crimes. The current Solicitor General, Una Jagose, was ultimately responsible for withholding evidence of crimes that were contained in my file from a police investigation into the crimes of Lake Alice. This was despite my file being squarely within the scope of a specific, formal request from the police.

“The Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care has made an official finding that the crimes of Lake Alice included the rape and torture of children. That finding was partially based on evidence given by Una Jagose herself, on behalf of the Crown. When asked during cross examination whether what happened at Lake Alice was torture, she agreed that it was. She also said that the Crown knew that what Dr Leeks was doing was not medical treatment because the evidence was in the file.

“However, despite this knowledge she [Crown Law] did not provide all of this evidence to the Police when they requested it,” McInroe writes.

“Therefore, I am now requesting that the Law Society investigate this matter and make a finding on what occurred. I, along with all the Children of Lake Alice, have waited most of our lives to see any acknowledgement and justice for the torture and trauma we lived through and the catastrophic harm we and our whanau continue to endure.”

The complaint follows a string of failures by the Crown that have been exposed by the UN and the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care. In December 2019 the UN found that New Zealand was in breach of the Convention Against Torture because it had not thoroughly investigated the allegations relating to Lake Alice.

The UN decision was the impetus for the police opening what was the fourth investigation into the allegations, in 2020. Newsroom reported last year that when police started the investigation, they requested relevant documents from Crown Law, including medical reports and opinions. The formal request quoted a section of the Privacy Act that overrides privacy barriers if requested for a criminal investigation. Despite this formal request, Crown Law did not give police the file that they held on Leoni McInroe. She was the first Lake Alice victim to take a civil claim against government about the Lake Alice adolescent unit and the Crown delayed her case for nine years.

McInroe’s file includes a damning medical report about Lake Alice by child psychiatrist and emeritus professor Dr John Werry. He said what Leeks did at Lake Alice was not medical treatment but medical misadventure. The report was written in the 1990s as part of McInroe’s civil claim and Crown Law was provided a copy and knew of its legal significance. Crown Law did not give it to police during an earlier criminal investigation in the 2000s. That investigation was closed and police said there was not enough evidence to press charges.

McInroe came forward to the Royal Commission in August 2020. Her lawyer Frances Joychild KC contacted the police immediately when she saw the significance of the documents in her file. This was nearly eight months after the police had first made their request for documents.

In an email to Joychild thanking her for providing McInroe’s information, the police said: “The Police investigation team were not aware of Leoni McInroe prior to receiving this documentation.”

The report from Werry demolished any argument that the methods Leeks used were legitimate medical treatment and would have given police a strong basis to view Leeks’ actions as criminal.

In their fourth investigation police found there was enough evidence to lay criminal charges against Leeks and his staff, but they were either dead or unfit to stand trial. Leeks died a few months after the decision. One former staff member, Dempsey Corkran, was charged but the proceedings were recently stayed because of his declining health.

The police apologised to victims at a hearing of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care for failings in previous investigations. The commission has since released a report on Lake Alice that made a finding of torture over what was inflicted on the children in the unit.

Newsroom has also asked both the former and current Prime Ministers, Jacinda Ardern and Chris Hipkins, if withholding evidence from police was acceptable, and whether Attorney General David Parker and Jagose would retain their positions given the seriousness of Crown Law withholding evidence from a criminal investigation by police. Neither Ardern nor Hipkins responded.

Aaron Smale is Newsroom's Māori Issues Editor. Twitter: @ikon_media

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