Focus on Police Competence
Three teenage girls wrongly jailed for eight months may be in line for tens of thousands of dollars in compensation.
The girls spent eight months in Auckland's Mt Eden Women's Prison after they were convicted on charge of aggravated robbery.
They yesterday won their appeal against the conviction when it was overturned by the Court of Appeal. The three judges on the bench told the girls "we offer our sympathy to them".
But the girls' lawyer, Gary Gotlieb, said they wanted more than sympathy. They wanted an apology from police and compensation from the Government.
Teangarua (Lucy) Akatere and Tania Mayze Vini, both aged 17, and McCushla (Krishla) Priscilla Fuataha, 16, had their charges quashed after the Crown's main witness, a 13-year-old girl, retracted her evidence by affidavit.
The younger girl had claimed she and the three older girls attacked a 16-year-old schoolgirl at Three Kings Plaza, in Mt Roskill in August 1999, punching her, slashing her with scissors and robbing her of $10.
New evidence presented to the Court of Appeal showed the 13-year-old was unreliable, had given several different accounts of the same incident and that the three girls were nowhere near the crime scene.
Mr Gotlieb said compensation was not the immediate priority for the three girls. He said the main focus was their emotional wellbeing and victim support.
But a compensation claim would be lodged.
Justice Minister Phil Goff's office said today they expected a claim from Mr Gotlieb but it had yet to be submitted.
Murray Gibson, the Auckland lawyer who won compensation of $868,000 for David Dougherty, who spent three years in prison for a rape he did not commit, said under new guidelines the three girls could get between $60,000 and $70,000 each.
That was working on a formula of $100,000 for each year spent in prison after a wrongful conviction.
He said David Dougherty's compensation was an ex-gratia payment and was not based on the guidelines.
Mr Gibson said there was also provision for exemplary damages if police misconduct could be proven rather than just police incompetence.
John Tulloch, a spokesman for Mr Goff's office, said the $100,000-a-year-formula did not necessarily apply to every case.
He said the final compensation amount would be decided by a Queen's counsel who would look at the case.
"It varies an awful lot."
He said once a compensation claim had been lodged it would initially be looked at by Mr Goff.
"He makes a judgment call and if he thinks it should proceed, it goes to a QC appointed by Mr Goff."
The Court of Appeal said yesterday the police investigation and trial system had failed and the wrongful conviction raised questions of conduct by the police "which is a serious matter and must be properly investigated".
The girls had "been subjected to the demeaning experience of a public trial and the constant rejection of their protestations of innocence".
After the overjoyed girls left the court in Auckland yesterday they said they were happy with the ruling but "we just want the police to say sorry".
Mr Gotlieb said the system had failed the girls and their families "all the way along the line".
Police had tunnel vision and often believed they had the offender and then found the facts to fit the crime, he said.
Police have nearly completed their own inquiry into the arrests and the matter was also being investigated by the Police Complaints Authority (PCA).
Judge Ian Borrin, from the PCA, told NZPA today he expected to get the full report of the police inquiry. He said the police investigation was not on behalf of the PCA but had been done with the PCA's approval.
"It enables any information which the investigation may disclose be used in any formal court proceedings."
The authority has no powers to consider compensation.