Focus on Police Competence
The wrongful jailing of three girls must be investigated by a government commission of inquiry, the former police superintendent who helped free the girls says.
Bryan Rowe, now a private investigator, said yesterday that everything that could have gone wrong with the case did and he had serious concerns about the police investigation, how it was prosecuted and how the judge handled aspects of the trial. The girls' case was just the tip of the iceberg.
Teangarua "Lucy" Akatere and Tania Mayze Vini, both 17, and McCushla "Krishla" Priscilla Fuataha, 16, had their joint conviction for aggravated robbery quashed by the Court of Appeal at Auckland on Tuesday. They spent seven months in prison and are seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation.
The Crown's main witness, a 13-year-old girl, retracted her evidence by affidavit after their conviction.
She claimed she and the three older girls committed a 1999 attack on a 16-year-old schoolgirl at Three Kings Plaza in Mt Roskill, Auckland. The schoolgirl was thumped and kicked, her head was banged against a tree stump, she was cut with scissors and robbed of $10.
Police have appointed Inspector Rob Marshall to investigate how the case was handled.
Mr Rowe said it appeared that, from the start, police investigating the case focused on the girls despite a lack of evidence.
The schoolgirl had described being attacked by five older Polynesian girls, whereas the 13-year-old girl said only the four were involved. The five described by the schoolgirl were taller than the three girls.
Other witnesses reported seeing the three girls at the plaza, but Mr Rowe said that was the week before the attack.
A witness said one of the girls had a nose stud, but none of the three had ever had a pierced nose.
Mr Rowe said the 13-year-old who made the false confession did so after allegedly being told that the three other girls had admitted the crime and implicated her.
The girls' wrongful conviction was not an isolated case and a commission of inquiry could help tackle problems with the justice system, Mr Rowe said.
A spokesman for Justice Minister Phil Goff said a commission of inquiry could be initiated only by the minister responsible for the portfolio an issue arose from. In this case, Mr Rowe would have to approach Police Minister George Hawkins.