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The Dominion Post
April 29 2003

Freed girls may sue for compo
by Martin Kay

Three teenage girls who spent seven months in jail for a crime they did not commit may sue the Government over its "woefully inadequate" compensation offer.

Their lawyer, Gary Gotlieb, said the offer was a fraction of what he believed his clients deserved. "When you compare it with previous payments, it's just not enough. Woefully inadequate is the term I would use."

He would not say how much was offered, but the formula for calculating compensation suggests it could be less than $100,000 each.

Mr Gotlieb said he was considering further action, and had not ruled out a law suit.

The girls, Lucy Akatere, Tania Vini and Krishla Fuataha, went to Mt Eden Women's Prison in August 2000 after being convicted of bashing, slashing and robbing a 16-year-old girl in the Auckland suburb of Three Kings. At the time, Ms Akatere was 15 and the others were 14. They are now 18 and 17 respectively.

Their convictions were based on a 13-year-old girl's false evidence. She claimed to have seen the attack.

Ms Fuataha, who was said to have cut the victim with a pair of scissors, was jailed for two years and the others for 18 months. They were freed in early 2001 when the witness admitted lying and their convictions were quashed that October.

At the time, Mr Gotlieb said he would seek hundreds of thousands of dollars, based on other cases.

In July 2001, David Dougherty received $868,000 for the 3<<1/2>> years he spent in jail for a rape he did not commit and in 2000 a man wrongly convicted of sexual abuse received $570,000 for 14 months in prison.

Since those cases, the Government has adopted new compensation criteria limiting how much can be paid. The criteria include $100,000 for each year spent in jail, paid on a pro-rata basis, meaning the girls would be eligible for $58,331 each.

The formula also allows an extra $100,000 for non-pecuniary losses, which can be adjusted upwards for aggravating factors such as fabricated evidence or downwards for factors such as the accused's conduct contributing to the wrongful conviction.

Mr Gotlieb said he was unhappy because the case had dragged on so long and the offer was far too low.

"You ask any member of Parliament who was wrongly arrested and put in jail for one month with their careers ruined what they would say if they were told all they will get is one twelfth of $100,000. What would they say?"

A spokesman for Justice Minister Phil Goff said the offer was calculated by Queen's Counsel Kristy McDonald. The Government would not comment on the figure as the negotiations were still confidential.