Events Leading to New Zealands Historic Abuse Claims

It seems that there were several key events that triggered the exposure of sexual abuse and other forms of brutality against ex wards of the state in New Zealand. The first of these were claims by ex-patients of psychiatric hospitals which involved 300 former patients alleging they were abused in the 1960s and 1970s at psychiatric hospitals including Porirua, Oakley, Kingseat, Tokanui or Lake Alice  Psychiatric Hospitals. All, except Porirua, have been closed. The former patients, mostly eight to 16 at the time, allege beatings and sexual abuse by staff and patients, inappropriate and excessive use of electric-shock therapy, drugs, and solitary confinement. These allegations went public in the late 90’s resulting in payouts of 10.7 million dollars to 183 ex-patients. In 2001 Helen Clark, the then New Zealand PM apologised, sending a letter to past patients to say ‘sorry’. Since then the New Zealand Government has strongly resisted any form of official inquiry into what went on in these institutions and no arrests were made. In 2012 The United Nations sent the NZ Government a please-explain letter over a police investigation which was closed in 2009 in the face of compelling criminal evidence against former staff members. The most notorious of these being Dr Selwyn Leeks, former head of the adolescent unit, who left NZ to practice in Australia and was about to face a charge in Victoria of unprofessional conduct but surrendered his medical licence on the eve of the hearings against him in 2006. Separately, an Australian court ordered him to pay $55,000 in damages to a woman patient for sexually abusing her. The Sunday Age (Melbourne) reported in March 2008:


“DISGRACED former psychiatrist Selwyn Leeks, who used electric shock aversion therapy to punish children, has lost an appeal against a $55,000 damages payout to a patient he sexually assaulted.

The Victorian Court of Appeal dismissed Leeks’ case… who in 1979 and 1980 endured his undressing her, touching and licking her breasts and digitally penetrating her.”


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The next major event occurred before or in 2009 after ex-Epuni Boys Home (footnote) wards alleged systemic beatings, torture, and sexual abuse were part of the institutions culture during the 60’s and 70’s. This story was covered in depth  by the NZ media and then and only then did the NZ Government sit up and take notice, rather coincidently after a 60 Minutes expose’ offering pathetic payouts – crumbs for the broken – to people who were previously denied help/financial remuneration through the ACC (NZ’s Sate owned Accident Compensation Corporation).

Next, in 2009/2010 came media surrounding Waimokoia Residential School/ex Mt Wellington Residential School which was closed in October of 2009 after Education Minister Anne Tolley announced the school would close after a history of “governance and management problems”. This was somewhat of an understatement. Several ex-staff were being criminally investigated and later would be charged. Two would be imprisoned, another would become ill and die before they could get him to trial and an ex-teacher would be struck from the education register and never be able to work again.

Footnote: A little known fact outside of New Zealand is that “Aotearoa” (the Maori name for NZ – “Land of the Long White Cloud”) has the second highest rate of incarceration in the developed world, coming second only to the U.S.

As journalist, author and ex Epuni Boys Home ward David Cohen notes in his book ‘Little Criminals’, “Many of the country’s worst killers – Rufus Marsh, Paul Dally, various people whose names can’t be used – were all Epuni fellows. One of the motivating reasons for doing this book is I feel it answers a rather old dinner question party question in this country: why do we have the developed world’s second-highest incarceration rate? We are well above everywhere else except the United States. One possible answer, one probable answer, is that for a generation we groomed in excess of 100,000 kids, mostly Maori boys, in these institutions. And that might possibly have something to do with the reason that so many of those guys are in jail. Causality, I don’t know; correlation, certainly.” (Source:



5 comments on “Events Leading to New Zealands Historic Abuse Claims

  1. Dale Mulligan on said:

    I was sexually abused in 1966 by a man named William Joseph Summers while I was a student at Nelson College. Summers once boasted he had “handled” the cocks of every Nelson Rugby 4th Grade rep that he met. But hey, good old NZ, no compensation for victims in New Zealand.

    • John Thomas on said:

      Hi I was in Epuni boys home in the 70′s ,and was abused sexually and physically.I just found out somebody could help me,but don’t know how to go about it.Can anybody help me please?

      • admin_grant on said:

        You need to contact Cooper Legal at Cooper Legal, 63-73 The Terrace, Wellington, 6011, New Zealand +64 4-499 9025.

  2. jOHN RIKA HEKE on said:

    yes i was a child of the ward at the age of ten years old, I lived a life of horror as to seeing my mother lying in the bath tub head with her head split open and bleeding. It happened at home I was living in WAIUKU I was taken away and put in a family home in pukekohe at the age of 12years old.

  3. Darren mcannalley on said:

    I was a state ward who was sent to beck house in 1977in eskdale the abuse haunts me sexual and mental abuse was something I deal with now for an eight year old boy my happiness as a child ended how do you heal from that I haven’t and I’m 50 now we learn from our mistakes but hatred for the state is deep in my heart

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