Allegations of Abuse in Institutions

Psychiatric Hospitals Index

Jan-June 2004 Index


NZ Herald
June 19 2004

Witness to boy's death believes there was a cover-up
by Stephen Cook

A chill cuts through the air as Stephen Lindsay slumps on to his sofa bed. As he pores over pages of crumpled documents trying to piece together his thoughts, his eyes suddenly bulge and dart to the other side of his cramped and cluttered haunt.

Then his composure melts.

Fighting back the tears, he rubs his eyes, cupping his head in his hands as memories flood back of the day 36 years ago he lost his best mate - 11-year-old Clement Matthews, who he says "died like a dog" behind the concrete walls of Kingseat psychiatric hospital.

"There are times like now I feel him here in this room with me. It's strange," he says.

Lindsay takes a few moments, wipes his eyes and begins to tell his story: a story he says exposes the brutal indifference to the mentally ill and the dark side of New Zealand's mental health system.

And it appears Lindsay, despite a long history of psychiatric problems, is being taken seriously. Based solely on his witness account of that day 36 years ago, police have reopened the case into Matthews' death.

The Matthews case is adding weight to calls for a commission of inquiry into claims of abuse at psychiatric institutions around the country in the 1960s and 70s.

Lindsay is one of many former child patients at psychiatric hospitals such as Kingseat and Porirua who have filed claims in the High Court seeking compensation for alleged sexual, physical and mental abuse.

Most people have fond memories of their childhood. Not Stephen Lindsay. When he thinks of his childhood, all he remembers are beatings, abuse and terrifying social isolation.

Now lost in a deep depression he can't outrun, the scars of five tortured years at Kingseat are seared into his soul. His days are filled with despair. Thoughts of suicide regularly occupy his mind.

To say Lindsay had it tough as a child is an understatement. He was the second of nine children. His father was an alcoholic, his mother, he says, a detached, unloving figure.

His father's scathing tongue and brutal demeanour often reduced the young Lindsay to a cowering shell. He recalls many a time his father came home from the pub, argued violently with his mother and then pushed his head through a wall.

Before long Lindsay began to rebel, his innocence replaced with feelings of self-hate, loathing and a repugnance for authority figures. At 9 years old, Lindsay became too much of a burden for his parents and was packed off to live with relatives. Before long, they too had had enough of the wayward boy.

In 1963, after various stints with foster families, Lindsay was sent to the Mt Wellington Residential School, a home for "emotionally disturbed" children. His hospital records from that time stated he was emotionally disturbed - "symptoms related to a long period of gross rejection on the part of the mother".

Lindsay's behaviour, punctuated by episodes of stealing and lying, did not improve and in June 1965, at 12, he was sent to Kingseat.

"I remember arriving at Kingseat and how terrified I was of the other residents. On my arrival I thought it was the worst day of my life. I didn't know the worst was still to come."

That day finally came in April 1968.

Stephen Lindsay first met Clement Matthews in July 1965. Matthews was only 8 at the time. According to Department of Health records, an overweight Matthews had been admitted to Kingseat because of "mental subnormality associated with disturbed behaviour of an aggressive nature".

Lindsay and "the chubby Maori boy with the big brown eyes and cheeky grin" soon began kicking around together. They would amuse themselves by playing practical jokes on other patients, often working in tandem to make life as difficult as possible for hospital staff. They became great friends.

"We enjoyed getting up to mischief. Clem had a real cheeky streak in him. It used to annoy the hell out of the other patients, but he couldn't help himself," Lindsay recalls.

Matthews, Lindsay remembers, lived for food. It was like a tonic to cleanse his troubled mind.

And he'd do anything to get it. Even if that meant robbing the lockers of fellow patients or raiding the kitchen cupboards.

It is ironic that food, something Matthews lived for, would, if Lindsay's account is true, play such a key part in his death.

For Lindsay, April 28 was like any other day at Kingseat hospital. The morning began with the normal 6am wake-up call and, as usual, a visit to Matthews' room.

The two headed for the showers and then breakfast, one of Matthews' favourite times of the day. Then it was off to the hospital day-room where they spent most of the day mingling with other patients on the ward. On that particular autumn day there was a lot of excitement among patients and staff because of a soccer match.

The overweight 11-year-old wasn't a soccer enthusiast, but as staff were preoccupied with the match, there was a chance to zero in on the kitchen.

With the day-room directly adjacent to the kitchen and dining room and with bread and butter already on the tables, Matthews pounced.

But before he had a chance to swallow the piece of bread he had swiped, Lindsay claims the boy was grabbed around the neck by a staff nurse and wrenched to the ground.

Then the nurse, he says, delivered the emphatic blow, a stiff kick to Matthews' back. Lindsay remembers Matthews' screams piercing the air, followed then by a gentle sobbing.

"I had heard something snap. It was like a branch breaking. I knew at the time his back was broken."

Lindsay claims the other nurse on duty watched without interest. Lindsay immediately went to comfort Matthews, but says all he could get from the boy was a groan as he slipped in and out of consciousness. Hospital staff , he says, dragged Matthews up a flight of stairs before dumping him on his bed and locking the door.

The next morning, when Lindsay went to Matthews' room, half expecting to see his friend ready and dressed for breakfast, he found Matthews lying face down and barely breathing.

Medical staff were called and 15 minutes later pronounced him dead.

A pathologist's report found Matthews had died of pneumonia, a finding upheld by the Auckland coroner.

Among the documentation in the coroner's report obtained by the Weekend Herald is a statement from Kingseat's medical officer who says that Matthews' health "immediately prior to his death had caused no undue concern".

While there are statements from Graham Evans, the doctor who pronounced Matthews dead, day nurse Milton Ferguson, who tried to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and Constable Paul Sherriff, who was called, no statements were taken from the two nurses who were on duty the day before.

Auckland pathologist Jane Vuletic, who has been asked to examine the case for police, said yesterday she could not go into specifics but confirmed that anyone suffering from pneumonia would exhibit symptoms such as chest pains and a high temperature at least five days before dying of the disease.

Lindsay is in no doubt about what happened.

"This has been a massive cover-up. Clem didn't die of pneumonia. He wasn't even sick.

"All I want is some acknowledgement of what really happened. Then maybe this poor kid can rest in peace."

Police have interviewed the nurse who allegedly assaulted Matthews and he has told them that although he can recall Matthews being a patient at Kingseat, he does not remember the death or whether he was even on duty at the time.

He emphatically denies ever assaulting Matthews. The Weekend Herald attempted to speak to him, but he declined a request for an interview.

The other nurse named by Mr Lindsay, now retired and living in Manurewa, said he recalled Matthews, but did not know the circumstances surrounding his death.

" ... At the slightest irritation, as I remember Clement, he used to throw himself on the floor and start kicking," he said. "If it happened in the dining room, he kicked tables, chairs, staff, other patients.

"I don't believe anybody would have kicked Clement, because it didn't happen. I was aware of staff mistreating patients occasionally, but they were sacked.

"Kingseat was one of the best hospitals in New Zealand. It was a kindly bunch of staff. Patients were well cared for."

Detective Sergeant Dave French said yesterday there was no time limit on the inquiry.

But it was tough going as some of the staff had since died while others were now very elderly.