Focus on Police Competence
The main witness in the case against three Auckland girls wrongfully imprisoned for robbery says police pressure led to her false confession.
The girl, 13 when police accused her of the 1999 robbery, said that after initially denying being involved she eventually buckled "to make the whole thing go away".
"I was confused and stressed out. The police kept saying if you don't say it we're going to get you another way. We're going to get you and the others. In the end I said it because I wanted to make the whole thing go away."
The Court of Appeal in Auckland last Tuesday quashed the joint conviction for aggravated robbery of Teangarua (Lucy) Akatere and Tania Mayze Vini, both 17, and McCushla (Krishla) Priscilla Fuataha, 16.
The court was told that after their trial, the Crown's principal witness, the 13-year-old, retracted her evidence by affidavit.
She had initially confessed to the robbery and said the other three were also involved in the 1999 attack on a 16-year-old schoolgirl at Three Kings Plaza in Mt Roskill suburb.
The victim was hit and kicked and her head banged against a tree stump before she was cut with scissors and robbed of $10.
The three girls spent seven months in Mt Eden Women's Prison before being released.
The principal witness, now 15, said she could not remember what she was doing on the day of the robbery, but she knew she took no part in a robbery and did not know if the other three girls did either.
She said she was confused and bewildered when police interviewed her and could not understand why they suspected her.
She felt an enormous amount of pressure from the police during interviews to not only confess to the crime but also to implicate the other three girls.
"I knew it wasn't true but all they were interested in was what they wanted to hear," she said.
When she finally signed a statement stating she and the other three girls were involved, she felt overcome with guilt.
"I thought what is the point of being a policeman if you are just going to make it all up anyway. I was so angry I just wanted to hit them or something."
She then went to a family friend and explained to him what had happened but he could not convince the police an injustice had been done.
It was only after Vini Kavi, the father of Tania Vini, hired lawyer Gary Gotlieb and private investigator Bryan Rowe to look into the case that she was able to put the matter right.
She retracted her evidence by affidavit.
"I was sad and happy when they came out. I'm glad because they can lead a normal life but I still feel guilty."