Focus on Police Competence
Three teenage girls, wrongly imprisoned for a crime they did not commit, may seek hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation from the Government.
Lucy Akatere and Tania Vini, both 17, and Krishla Fuataha, 16, were jointly convicted of an aggravated robbery near the Three Kings Mall in Auckland in August, 1999.
They spent seven months in Auckland's Mt Eden Women's Prison before they were granted bail after their lawyer Gary Gotlieb and private investigator Bryan Rowe persuaded police to reopen the case because a principle witness had lied, and that the three were nowhere near the crime scene.
The Court of Appeal subsequently overturned their convictions and the three presiding judges told the girls "we offer our sympathy to them".
Police later apologised personally to the girls.
Mr Gotlieb would not say today what he believed was a fair compensation but said it would be far higher than a suggested figure of $60-$70,000 for their seven months in prison.
He would not comment on whether he thought the compensation figure could reach $500,000.
Mr Gotlieb said a top psychologist was still examining the three girls but it may take several years to undo the impact of seven months in an adult prison.
The girls had lost nearly two years of their education because of the charges and prison sentence. When they were released on bail earlier this year, the school told them it would be embarrassing if they returned.
Mr Gotlieb said the school stance shocked him but he had "persuaded" the headmaster to allow the girls to return.
"He realised on reflection it was not the best approach. I gave him the rest of the day to get back to me," Mr Gotlieb said.
Mr Gotlieb said until the psychological assessment had been completed he could not say what would be sought in compensation.
"That may open up different matters as well."
He said spending time in prison could change their entire life direction.
"That is why I have to get an expert psychologist in.
"They need to be looked after with kid gloves for a time."
Mr Gotlieb said he expected the Government to pay for the psychological counselling, unrelated to any claim for compensation.
"I am not putting anything until we have had the chance to sit down and assess it properly."
Police have two inquiries underway - one into the original assault and criminal activity, and an internal police inquiry into the way police handled the investigation.
The internal inquiry should be completed before Christmas and the results sent to the Commissioner of Police, Rob Robinson.