Focus on Police Competence

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The Timaru Herald
April 30 2003

How much is enough?

The three Auckland girls who spent seven months in prison for a crime they did not commit are not happy with a Government compensation offer. Their lawyer Gary Gotlieb describes it as woefully inadequate. We've not been told what the offer is or what the trio expect, although Mr Gotlieb has mentioned hundreds of thousands of dollars and also that the $1 million granted Arthur Allan Thomas was "to some degree" the benchmark.

So, what is seven months in jail for 14 and 15-year-olds, a stressful year before that and the ongoing damage of the experience worth in today's money?

The Arthur Allan Thomas example is not comparable. His 1980 compensation is probably worth twice what it was then, but he served 10 years in prison, was framed by police and twice convicted, and because no one else was ever charged with the Crewe murders he lives life not guilty but, in some eyes, not innocent either.

Not $2 million then.

What about $868,728, the amount David Dougherty got in 2001 for spending three-and-a-half years in jail for a rape he did not commit? Again, one has to take into account the time before the case and the stigma afterwards. He says people still considered him guilty of the 1992 rape until Nicholas Reekie was charged with it last year. That's 10 years of his life.

What other comparisons? Nine prisoners have been compensated by the state for being kept in jail beyond their release dates. One man convicted of a vicious assault got $42,000 for an extra 129 days.

The girls deserve more than this.

Four gang members received $250,000 in compensation between them after ill-treatment by warders at Mangaroa Prison (yep, more than this too) and three years ago an Auckland man received $570,000 for being wrongly jailed for sexually violating his children (nope, not this much).

In the civil arena, 23 men sexually abused at a Catholic residential school have accepted compensation of between $30,000 and $100,000 each. Thirty-three others have yet to decide on their offers.

Which leaves us where with the Auckland girls? There are some things we don't know. How much did jail affect them? To what extent has their education been compromised? How are they viewed in their community today?

Despite those unknowns, and given other precedents, how does $150,000 apiece sound, after costs? Short of this the Government appears stingy, beyond it the girls greedy.