Focus on Police Competence
Three teenage girls jailed for a crime they did not commit, had their convictions quashed by the Court of Appeal today.
Teangarua Lucy Akatere, 17, Tania Mayze Vini, 17 and Krishla Priscilla Fuataha, 16, were jailed last year for what a judge described as a "sadistic" slashing of a school girl.
However, in the Court of Appeal at Auckland today, Justices Robertson, Gault and Salmon overturned the conviction which was not opposed by police, and told the three they had the court's sympathy for the injustice which had wrongly sent them to prison.
Crown prosecutor Kieran Raftery told the court today the convictions were unsafe and a retrial would not be sought.
The court heard after the trial an affidavit was produced by a principal witness retracting the original evidence.
Facts were also produced proving the three were not in the vicinity of the Three Kings Mall in Auckland when a 16-year-old was slashed with a pair of scissors and robbed of $10.
Much of the new evidence was not fresh and could have been obtained with reasonable diligence before the trial, Court of Appeal said today.
"The investigation and trial system failed in this case," said Justice Gault.
The court said the wrong conviction raised questions about the conduct of the police which must be investigated.
"Three young persons have been let down by the system."
One of the three, Fuataha, was jailed for two years, the other two were jailed for 18 months last September.
"They have been subjected to the demeaning experience of a public trial and the constant rejection of their protestations of innocence.
"We offer our sympathy to them," Justice Gault said.
Outside the court the lawyer for the three, Gary Gotlieb, QC, said it was a "systemic failure all the way along the line" to the "terrible injustice" which led to a conviction for a crime the three did not commit.
"There were so many things which went wrong. In the end we picked it up with a private investigator."
He said a compensation claim would be lodged but the main focus now was to get the three counselling and look after their wellbeing.
"They need all the support they can get."
Mr Gotlieb said decision today had shown the system could right itself.
He said the emotional cost to the family was gut-wrenching and left the judicial system very embarrassed.