Focus on Police Competence
Krishla Fuataha (from left), Tania Vini and Lucy Akatere. Herald Picture : Martin Sykes
The police have apologised to three girls who spent seven months in jail for a crime they did not commit.
Commissioner Rob Robinson said yesterday that police were "very sorry" that the Auckland teenagers were "victims of a miscarriage of justice".
On Tuesday, the Court of Appeal in Auckland quashed the joint conviction for aggravated robbery of Teangarua (Lucy) Akatere and Tania Mayze Vini, both aged 17, and McCushla (Krishla) Priscilla Fuataha, 16, all of Mt Roskill.
The court heard that after their trial, the Crown's principal witness, a 13-year-old, retracted her evidence by affidavit. A corroborating witness also retracted his evidence.
The 13-year-old, who was too young to be charged, had claimed she and the three older girls attacked a 16-year-old schoolgirl at Three Kings Plaza in 1999.
Outside the Court of Appeal on Tuesday, the girls said they were happy with the ruling but "we just want the police to say sorry".
Last night, Tania Vini and Lucy Akatere said they would not be satisfied until they received the apology in person from police and particularly the officer in charge of the case, Detective Constable Trevor Franklin, a former test cricketer.
Lucy Akatere said she also wanted a personal apology from another detective who had interviewed her.
Tania Vini's father, Vini Kavi, said he was pleased with the apology but "it was what we expected".
Mr Robinson, who is based at police national headquarters in Wellington, said Auckland officers would convey the apology to the girls and their families.
"The criminal justice process has checks and balances at all stages, including the court hearings. Unfortunately, they all seemed to fail these girls," he said.
An internal inquiry into the original investigation was under way.
Justices Bruce Robertson, Thomas Gault and Peter Salmon, who overturned the conviction, told the girls they had the court's sympathy.
Justice Gault said the wrongful conviction "raises questions of conduct by the police, which is a serious matter and must be properly investigated".
The girls' lawyer, Gary Gotlieb, said they would seek compensation but the main focus at the moment was their emotional wellbeing and victim support.
Justice Minister Phil Goff , speaking from Shanghai where he is attending an Apec meeting, said the level of compensation available would depend on the degree of culpability by the state in mishandling the case. "I can't make any judgment on that until a proper investigation is made of it."
Murray Gibson, the Auckland lawyer who won compensation of $868,728 for David Dougherty after he had spent three years in jail for rape and abduction before being acquitted in a retrial, said the girls could get between $60,000 and $70,000 each under new guidelines.
That was working on a formula of $100,000 for each year spent in prison after a wrongful conviction.
Mr Gibson said there was also provision for exemplary damages if police misconduct could be proven rather than just police incompetence.
The three girls were convicted after a High Court trial in August last year.
The jury heard that the victim was thumped and kicked and her head banged against a tree stump before she was cut with scissors and robbed of $10.
Krishla Fuataha, who was said to have wielded the scissors, was sentenced to two years' jail and the others to 18 months.
The girls were given bail in April after Mr Gotlieb brought in private investigator Bryan Rowe, a former police superintendent, to look at the file and police subsequently agreed to reinvestigate the case.