Australian Critics of Scientology
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Inside 60 Minutes: The Story Behind The Stories, p38-42

John Little

Allen & Unwin 1994, ISBN 1-86373-721-9


Note: The CoS included a segment on Chelmsford in the 1993 edition of What Is Scientology?, the text being at their Web site:

http://www.scientology.org/reform/new/5chelms.htm


The investigative journalist needs to have the backing of a boss who will trust him to follow his instincts and who is prepared to wait a long time for a result. With 60 Minutes Anthony McClellan found a program with the money and the time to indulge his skills and with Gerald Stone he had an Executive Producer prepared to let him have his head.

In 1980, McClellan teamed up with Ray Martin again to investigate activities taking place at a private hospital in Sydney. They had little idea at first of what a sensational story it would turn out to be. Chelmsford Hospital at 2 The Crescent Pennant Hills, was run by Dr Harry Bailey, a fashionable and highly thought of psychiatrist who specialised in deep-sleep therapy. Under this regimen, patients suffering from depression would be put into drug induced sleep, sometimes for up to three weeks. Often they would be given electric shock therapy while they lay there unconscious.

In 1964 a 28-year-old man, Antonios Xigis, died three days after being admitted to Chelmsford with post-traumatic depression. Dr Harry Bailey had told him that after a deep, restful sleep he would be cured. But he never woke up. Bailey himself told the Coroner in a letter, that DST could not be ruled out as a contributing factor in the death, but that warning sign was ignored. Antonios Xigis was only the first of 26 deaths in the years to come which were directly related to deep-sleep therapy. There were also 22 suicides of DST patients.

When 60 Minutes began investigating in 1980, the full extent of these horrors was still unknown. An anti-psychiatry group called the Citizen's Committee on Human Rights, closely linked with the Scientology movement, had collected a sizeable dossier on Chelmsford Hospital. This was McClellan's first point of contact. Much of their information had come from a nurse in the hospital. She had supplied documentary evidence that patient histories were written in pencil so that they could be altered later if necessary and that patients were being given drugs far in excess of the approved dosages.

An initial contact was a 33-year-old businessman, Barry Hart, who had been admitted to Chelmsford suffering from depression. Hart was a patient of Dr John Herron, Bailey's offsider in deep-sleep therapy. He had refused to sign a consent form for electric shock treatment and was given a sleeping pill to calm him. Two weeks later Hart woke up. He described the feeling to Ray Martin:

I couldn't feel my body. It was a horrible feeling. And all my head inside was exploding with white light as if it was blowing off its shoulders. And the oblivion. Next thing I remember I woke up and I had a tube up my nose and tremendous pain in my shoulders and I tried to alleviate the pain by moving my arms around. I couldn't do it because my arms were strapped. I went berserk. I yelled out, 'Get these things off' and I heard people running and noises and talking and then, nothing again. I had these tremendous pains in my chest. It was agony to breathe. It was like someone sticking a knife in and twisting it, and I complained about this and they said it will go away, it'll clear up. And it didn't, it got worse. I used to vomit and I used to bring up blood and one of the nurses aid to me if I was you I'd get out of here.

Barry Hart was suffering from double pneumonia, deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism and anoxic brain damage. Hart sued Dr Herron and Chelmsford and was awarded damages of $60 000 for false imprisonment and assault and battery.

McClellan set about reading the entire transcript of the court case. He learned that deep-sleep therapy had been founded by a British psychiatrist, Dr William Sargeant who had laid down strict precautions for its operation. There were six fundamental guidelines to be followed. They included making sure the patient was able to walk, that he could be easily woken up and that the treatment be stopped immediately if complications set in.

Under cross examination Dr Herron had admitted that five of the six precautions had been disregarded. The transcripts led McClellan to a Sydney psychiatrist, Dr John Sydney Smith, who had appeared as a witness for Hart. Smith was aware of what was going on at Chelmsford and was appalled by it. He never appeared in the film, but it can now be revealed that he acted as Deep Throat, feeding McClellan information and assisting with scientific advice.

McClellan set out to track down relatives of people who had died at Chelmsford. Often they did not want to see him because of the stigma of having someone mentally ill in the family. But some were prepared to talk. Mrs Denise Clark was the widow of Peter Clark, a policeman and former NSW Open Wrestling Champion. In 1974 he had gone to Dr Bailey for treatment for severe anxiety. He was admitted on a Monday. His wife rang every day asking to see him but was told it was not possible. On Friday he died. She told Ray Martin:

Dr Bailey rang me up at my mother and father's place where I was staying. Dr Bailey spoke to me, he said I'm sorry, Peter just died. And I said died? I said what of? He said a heart attack. And I said you must be joking. He said, I'm not joking and I said but he was only 31. I said, why didn't you check him? He said, I worked on him for half an hour and tried to revive him. He said, I couldn't.

McClellan had begun by fitting in his inquiries around other stories. But after a few weeks the Chelmsford story began to take over his life. Days and nights were spent tracking down and talking with former patients, people who had worked in the hospital and the surviving relatives of people who had died there. A horrifying pattern was emerging of people being admitted to Chelmsford with nothing physically wrong and simply dying. Many of them were taken to nearby Hornsby Hospital so that the deaths did not appear related to Chelmsford.

The court transcripts revealed details of another patient, Audrey Francis. She was 60 years old and still an active journalist. Forty-two hours after she was admitted to Chelmsford she too was dead. The court saw a letter written by Dr Herron to the coroner allegedly attempting to avoid an inquest. Details in the medical record concerning the patient's body temperature had been altered.

A 26-year-old Italian woman, Maria (not her real name) was depressed when admitted to Chelmsford, but physically fit. Within four hours of sedation she was seriously ill. After eight days Maria was suffering three major problems: pneumonia, kidney damage and haemorrhage from the bowel.

McClellan managed to obtain her medical records and commissioned his Deep Throat, Dr John Sydney Smith, to report on them. There was no indication of any measures to investigate or to treat internal bleeding. During at least eleven days of deep sedation Maria had received eight electric shock treatments. Dr Sydney Smith said that giving ECT to a patient while seriously ill could kill them.

One night McClellan made a telephone call to London to Dr William Sargent, the man who had pioneered deep-sleep therapy. Although he identified himself as a journalist, Sargent somehow got the idea that he was a lawyer and he was being asked to appear as a witness for Dr Harry Bailey in a court case. McClellan says this is the only explanation for Sargent being so forthright in the opinions he offered. Sargent had heard of Bailey's work and he told McClellan there was no way he would appear for him in court, as Bailey was making a complete mess of DST. He was so scathing in his condemnation that McClellan was further convinced of the strength of his story.

By the time they were ready to begin filming Anthony had assembled a massive amount of material. Now he had to turn it into a coherent television story. He hired a courtroom and used actors to re-enact parts of the Hart case. Ray Martin had been keeping track of the research, now it was time for him to step in. One by one they persuaded the 'talent' to sit down and tell their stories. A crucial breakthrough came when they went to visit a former matron at the hospital. She had spoken to McClellan off the record, but now, with the camera crew waiting outside, he and Ray Martin sat down again to persuade her to come on camera. Martin is no hard-sell merchant, but his softly-softly approach won her over. Her testimony was another vital building block.

Politicians had been warned that things were dangerously out of control. The Minister for Health at the time, Frank Walker, had promised two years previously to look into complaints about Chelmsford but nothing had been done. The psychiatric profession closed ranks around their colleague. It had been known for years that something was gravely amiss at Chelmsford but McClellan could not find one psychiatrist to speak out individually about it on camera. The Royal Australian College of Psychiatrists put up their President, Dr Richard Ball, as a spokesman. Martin's interview was a damning indictment of their role.

Ball: The system works in so far as we require complaints upon which we can act.
Martin: Who rings the alarm bells? If there's a problem, if there's a danger, if there's reason for concern, who rings the alarm bells?
Ball: If the situation were such as you describe in relation to any kind of treatment, this may be from professional colleagues.
Martin: Have you had any complaints about this from colleagues?
Ball: No.
Martin: Our evidence is that one psychiatrist complained in writing to the college about the practice at that hospital.
Ball: I have not, as Federal President, had this matter brought to my attention in the way you suggest, this does not mean that it has not been brought to the branch level and will in due course come to us.
Martin: The letter was written two years ago.
Ball: I'm not aware of that letter.
Martin: And yet the College is in the business of self-regulation. Isn't that part of your job?
Ball: That is correct.

Later Dr Ball informed 60 Minutes that the letter had been received by the Sydney branch of the college.

By the time the story had been put together, 60 Minutes would say with certainty that from 1974 to 1977 seven people had died and others had suffered paralysis and brain damage. It was a sensational allegation, but as we now know it was only the tip of the iceberg.

There was so much to tell that the story was originally structured to run in two parts. Gerald Stone showed a rough version of it to Kerry Packer. He was happy to take the legal risks but he thought it should only be one segment of the program. He did not think it was such a blockbuster as everyone else. After all the people were already dead weren't they?

'The Chelmsford Scream' won a Logie for 60 Minutes. Five years later, Dr Harry Bailey, by then a depressed alcoholic, killed himself with an overdose of barbiturates washed down with a bottle of German beer. Uncharacteristically, 60 Minutes did not make the mileage with the story that it could have. Having done it once they moved on. It was picked up by the Sydney Morning Herald and it was their campaign which resulted in a Royal Commission into Chelmsford Hospital.

Some 152 former patients were awarded payouts totalling $5.5 million by the NSW Victims Compensation Tribunal. Following the Royal Commission findings, criminal charges of manslaughter and causing grievous bodily harm were laid against Dr Herron and another Chelmsford doctor, Dr John Gill. Acting Justice Slattery, who conducted the Royal Commission, also referred certain matters concerning a third Chelmsford doctor, Dr Ian Gardiner, to the Director of Public Prosecutions. No charges were laid against Dr Gardiner. Drs Gill and Herron won a stay of the criminal charges in the NSW Court of Appeal. All three doctors obtained a High Court ruling granting a permanent stay of disciplinary proceedings brought against them by the NSW Health Department. Thirteen years after 60 Minutes broke the story, the final chapter was written. The Director of Public Prosecutions decided to drop all charges.


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