Charges against the 91-year-old former Lake Alice nurse have been dropped over health concerns

John (Dempsey) Corkran, pictured in Whanganui District Court in late 2021, is dying of cancer.  (Stock photo)

Jimmy Ellingham/Stuff

John (Dempsey) Corkran, pictured in Whanganui District Court in late 2021, is dying of cancer. (Stock photo)

A former Lake Alice nurse accused of mistreating the children in his care 49 years ago would not face trial due to his impaired physical and mental health.

John Richard James (Dempsey) Corkran, 91, was due to go on trial in the High Court in August to face eight counts of cruelty to the children in his care.

On 20 June the charges against him were dismissed and Judge Andru Isac set out his case in Wellington High Court on Wednesday.

In its decision it acknowledged the complainants. I have no doubt that my decision will cause further anguish to those who have endured grave injustice without a voice or recognition for many decades.

* High Court ruling to suspend charges against former Lake Alice nurse angers survivors
* The charges against the former Lake Alice Psychiatric Hospital nurse have ceased
* Lake Alice Psychiatric Hospital: John Richard Corkran cited as accused of 89-year-old man
* The truth about Lake Alice: Justice delayed is justice denied

But it would be wrong to allow such considerations to result in further injustice to the defendant.

Corkran was dying, had two forms of cancer and was thought to have only months to live, the judge said.

His hearing and vision were failing, he could not eat solid foods and was in more and more pain.

Her GP said she was too frail to go to court.

Psychiatrist Dr Selwyn Leeks has been at the center of many complaints but has never been charged and is now dead.  (Stock photo)

Getty Images

Psychiatrist Dr Selwyn Leeks has been at the center of many complaints but has never been charged and is now dead. (Stock photo)

In addition, the judge had reports from two psychiatrists, a neuropsychologist, two urologists and letters from two of the Corkran children about his declining health and functioning.

Psychiatrists said a mild age-related disorder that affected her mental functioning was now complicated by severe depressive disorder, pain and pain relief.

While they did not say he was legally unfit to stand trial, they did have serious concerns about him facing what was expected to be an eight-week trial.

The judge said as Corkran’s cancer progressed his difficulties would worsen, especially as he would be away from his home region.


Royal Commission of Inquiry witness Rangi Wickliffe talks about spending time at Lake Alice as a 10-year-old. (First published June 2021)

However, it was also clear that he was fit to bring the charges forward, including the nature and purpose of the proceedings and possible consequences.

The judge decided it was impossible to give Corkran a fair trial.

Corkran was a nurse at the former Lake Alice psychiatric hospital in the Manawat-Whanganui region, and later a lead nurse in its children’s and adolescent unit.

The dates of the charges were from 1974 to 1977. He was charged in December 2021 with giving seven teenagers painful injections of paraldehyde to punish them. He pleaded not guilty.

The judge said the nature of the allegations and the evidence involving seven complaints meant Corkran was likely to have to testify in his defense and be cross-examined.

The now closed Lake Alice Mental Hospital.  (Stock photo)

sam baker/stuff

The now closed Lake Alice Mental Hospital. (Stock photo)

And therein lies the rub, wrote the judge. Mr. Corkran is a 91-year-old man dying of cancer who is severely physically and mentally impaired which, in my opinion, deprives him of the ability to testify before a jury.

He regularly lost his train of thought or couldn’t remember the meaning of a question. You may confabulate to compensate for a lack of comprehension memory.

I was left with the distinct impression that, at best, he would remain a mere spectator of his own criminal trial, the judge said.

Delay in filing a case could itself be grounds for halting prosecutions, he said.

It has been 47 years since the first Lake Alice Patient Treatment Survey. Thirty former personnel who could have testified for the defense were now dead, and another 20 were no longer available to testify.

The delay also affected Corkran’s ability to recall events and explain or understand evidence such as medical records that still exist.

The judge also considered, but did not decide, whether Corkran had legal immunity from prosecution for acts committed while working in a psychiatric hospital.

The judge said concern about patient mistreatment in Lake Alice first surfaced in the 1970s.

Between 1976 and 2022 various state and international agencies reported and investigated the complaints.

The police had already launched its fourth investigation when the UN Committee against Torture criticized the previous investigations and called for a proper investigation and charges where appropriate.

By then, the focus of many of the complaints, Dr Selwyn Leeks, who had been in charge of the teenagers’ unit, was deemed ineligible to stand trial. Leeks died in January 2022.

#Charges #91yearold #Lake #Alice #nurse #dropped #health #concerns
Image Source :

Leave a Comment