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The Press
October 17 2001

Conviction of girls overturned

Wellington - Three teenage girls who walked free from court after the conviction that sent them to prison last year was overturned will seek compensation, their lawyer says.

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.

The three had their convictions quashed by the Court of Appeal in Auckland yesterday after they had spent eight months in prison on a charge of aggravated robbery.

They were convicted on the evidence of a 13-year-old whom police now say was unreliable. She has given several versions of the attack which left a 16-year-old schoolgirl cut and bruised.

The schoolgirl was attacked near the Three Kings Mall in Auckland in August 1999. She was repeatedly slashed with a pair of scissors, kicked and thumped, and robbed of $10.

After Justices Robertson, Gault, and Salmon's overturning of the conviction, which was not opposed by police, the trio's lawyer, Gary Gotlieb, said they would be seeking compensation but not immediately.

Mr Gotlieb said the three did not commit the crime and were wrongfully convicted.

He said police had tunnel vision and it was often the case that the police believed they had the offender and then found the facts to fit the crime.

Mr Gotlieb said the issue of compensation had yet to be decided but it would be sought and the girls would be offered victim support.

"We are not even going to think about it for some time. We are just going to get these girls sorted out, that is the main thing," he said.

He said despite the "terrible injustice" that had been done, yesterday's ruling had shown the system could right itself.

Ms Fuataha was sentenced to two years jail, the other two to 18 months.

"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."

Crown prosecutor Kieran Raferty told the Court of Appeal yesterday the convictions were unsafe and a retrial would not be sought. The court was told that after the original trial an affidavit was produced by a principal witness retracting the original evidence.

Facts were also produced proving the three were not near the scene of the attack.

Much of the new evidence was not fresh and could have been obtained with reasonable diligence before the trial, the judges said.

"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 trio said the ruling was "sensational".

"I am happy it is over now after so long," Ms Vini said.

"Spending time in jail hurt," Ms Fuataha said.

The three girls said it was disgusting that an alleged co-offender had told lies at the original trial.

"I don't know how they could do that for $10," Ms Vini said.

An internal police inquiry has found evidence that led to the wrongful conviction and jailing of the girls was unsafe and unreliable.

However, police have yet to decide if it was a police error which led to the three girls spending time in prison on the evidence from a 13-year-old.

The 13-year-old was too young to be charged but has been dealt with under the provisions of the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act.

Detective Senior Sergeant Stu Allsopp-Smith, who was in charge of the investigation , said yesterday that although his inquiry was incomplete, he was satisfied the evidence of the 13-year-old was unreliable.

He said she had admitted her evidence at the trial and an earlier depositions hearing was false.


Caption:  Photo NZ Herald - Auckland teenagers Krishla Fuataha, left, Tania Vini, and Teangarua Akatere leave the High Court with their lawyer, Gary Gotlieb, after their convictions for assault were quashed.