Lake Alice Survivor Tells of Inhumanity of Psychiatrist Selwyn Leeks, Electroshocked Child as Punishment

September 14, 2021

Steve Watt says his time at Lake Alice changed his life. He recently asked his prep school for a copy of its magazine to verify what he used to be like.

A high-achieving teen became a shell of his former self after he was sent to a notorious psychiatric institute. He tells Jimmy Ellingham how Lake Alice changed his life.

As electricity pulsed through his body, the boy stiffened and convulsed.

Terrified, the others looked on at the behest of their tormenter.

It was 1976, in villa seven of the child and adolescent unit at Lake Alice, near Marton.

Tied to a bed, a boy from Niue was surrounded by other teenagers and children.

The boy stole money from an office and was being punished in front of his peers.

Dr. Selwyn Leeks, the unit’s lead psychiatrist, wetted his instrument of torture, an electro-convulsive treatment machine, attached its tentacles to the boy’s head and, without administering anaesthetic, turned on the charge.

Among those watching was Steve Watt, 15 or 16 at the time. What he saw changed him forever.

“All the time Dr. Leeks was ranting and raving and telling us this was what happened if you misbehaved. It was absolutely horrifying.”

Watt and others were forced to stand there and watch the boy drift in and out of consciousness. He’s not sure for how long. It could have been—20 minutes, even an hour.

“The boy was terrified. I could see his whole body stiffen and convulse when the ECT was administered. We were all terrified by Dr. Leeks’ behaviour and power in this situation, knowing that we were all at his mercy,” Watt says.

“I cannot describe how repulsed and frightened I was by this display of inhumanity by Dr. Leeks. It will stay with me forever. I was petrified. It was the worst day of my life.”

Watt is sure instilling fear and horror in the children is what Leeks wanted.

“Life in Lake Alice was very frightening. I really closed down. I put the shutters up and I worried about my own survival... I still have dreams of watching that boy. I was just lucky enough to have a reasonable education that I could carry on with life afterwards.”

Watt had two spells at Lake Alice in the mid-1970s. He says the experience changed his life.

Before he was sent to Lake Alice, Watt was a high achiever at Huntley prep school, in Marton, and during his first year of high school in Cambridge.

He hadn’t lived an easy life – his relationship with his parents was almost non-existent – but at Huntley Watt thrived in the rigid ways of boarding school and was taken under the wing of the headmaster.

His parents though were still disinterested, not even coming to see him sing in the Huntley choir’s performance with the Vienna Boys’ Choir in Palmerston North.


Watt’s first admission to Lake Alice when he was a fourth former was initially supposed to only last a fortnight after an argument with his parents. It ended up stretching more than six months, although he was allowed to attend RangitÄ«kei College during the day.

His second stint, a year later, came after he asked the Department of Social Welfare for help and another argument with his mother, although a police doctor tore up “committal forms.” Like many admitted to the unit, Watt wasn’t psychiatrically ill.

He was never given electric shock therapy, although he was threatened with it, nor was he sexually assaulted at Lake Alice. He was injected with paralysing drugs and locked in an isolation pen. He also stayed the odd weekend at Leeks’ house, helping do his garden.

But witnessing the Nuian boy’s torture changed him. He no longer cared if he lived or died, and 25 years later, when living in Wellington, he nearly did lose his life.

On December 31, 2002, he was driving his Kombi camper van when a teenager careered through a Kilbirnie intersection into Watt’s vehicle, throwing Watt clear of the crash, shattering his skull. Rather than checking if he was OK, the teen left Watt for dead as he lay on the ground choking.

The teen was sentenced to 100 hours’ community work on a charge of failing to help an injured person.

It was touch and go. Watt died once in the ambulance and three times during surgery, only to be revived. For six weeks he was in a drug-induced coma.

When he finally woke, it was to a changed life. A brain injury meant he could no longer work and he went through years of therapy.

Between 1976 and 2002, Watt had stints in jobs as varied as book binding, indulging his passion for water when diving for seafood, and starting his own company, Next Step Computing. He worked on the sound desk for concerts, including Joni Mitchell and Elton John gigs in the capital city, and raced motorbikes, amid the odd brush with the law.

Behind everything was the trauma of Lake Alice.

When Watt left secondary school he wanted to join the navy and was invited to sit officer exams. But he was rejected. Watt thinks his stints at Lake Alice were behind that.

He also distrusts authority. That’s not been helped by subsequent events. Eight years ago Watt complained to the police about what Leeks did to the Niuean boy, but was told nothing could be done. Watt says he didn’t complain earlier as he thought no-one would believe a former Lake Alice patient.

Watt gave written evidence to the recent Royal Commission into Lake Alice’s child and adolescent unit and made a further police statement in 2020.

He says Leeks should be charged, a decision that would help many survivors. He also wants an apology, to him and others.

Watt hopes police charge Leeks. He would also like an apology to him and other Lake Alice survivors.

Police initially said they would make a decision about charging Leeks and other staff members in early July, but said this week: “The survivors have been informed that we are endeavouring to have the investigation completed by late August.”

Watt now lives a quiet life with his two dogs, Bonnie and Buster, in Porirua, making mats out of rope to sell to shops and on Trade Me.

“I asked Huntley School for a copy of the school magazine so I could try to reconnect with who I was before it all came about.

“Before going to Lake Alice I was winning all the school prizes... I was in the choir. I was sporting and I was musical,” he says.

“Those were the best days of my life. My experience in Lake Alice took my life, future and potential away from me, but I will continue to work towards reassuring myself of who I was before the horrible things at Lake Alice happened to me.”

Source: Jimmy Ellingham, “Lake Alice torture session changed life of high-achieving teenager,”, July 17, 2021, URL:


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