Focus on Police Competence
Three young women jailed for a crime they did not commit have rejected almost half a million dollars in compensation and are challenging the way the Government reached the figure.
A claim filed in the High Court at Auckland shows Lucy Akatere and Tania Vini were offered $135,000 each and McCushla Fuataha was offered $137,500. The Government says that, with other payments, they were offered more than $160,000 each.
Their lawyer has indicated the $1 million paid to Arthur Allan Thomas, wrongly convicted of double murder, is a benchmark for compensation, but added the amount was for the court to decide.
Lucy Akatere, Tania Vini and McCushla Fuataha served seven months in prison after being jointly convicted of an aggravated robbery in Three Kings in August 1999.
Ms Akatere was 15 at the time and her co-accused were 14.
The case was reopened after a witness admitted she lied and the three were proven to have been nowhere near the scene of the attack.
The Court of Appeal overturned the convictions in 2001 and told the girls: "We offer our sympathy."
The amount of compensation offered by the Government last year was recommended by Wellington QC Kristy McDonald, who was asked to apply Government criteria and recommend the appropriate ex-gratia payment.
Ms McDonald recommended the amounts, a public statement of the trio's innocence and an apology by the Crown.
The women rejected the offer and described it as "both seriously inadequate and unlawful".
They claim the Government guidelines used to reach the compensation figure are "unlawful, irrational and unfair" and that they were not correctly applied in reaching the recommended amounts.
The women want the court to declare the recommendations unlawful and invalid, and quash them.
Their lawyer, Gary Gotlieb, said the Government had ignored opinions by three QCs - Rodney Harrison, Richard Craddock and Bill Wilson - on behalf of the women.
"The figure offered in comparison to what happened to the girls was grossly understated.
"Not only did the girls have the seven-odd months in prison, they had all that terrible time beforehand where they really lost their education and lost all their opportunities that at that age you have. [They were] ostracised by fellow students. It just makes you very sad."
A spokesman for Justice Minister Phil Goff said the total compensation for each woman of over $160,000, including costs, was based on criteria established by the Cabinet.
The Government would vigorously defend the action in court.
David Dougherty was awarded $868,728 compensation for wrongful imprisonment after being falsely convicted of abducting and raping a child. DNA evidence subsequently proved his innocence. Dougherty initially asked for $1.3 million.
Arthur Allan Thomas received nearly $1 million compensation on being pardoned in 1979 after twice being convicted of the murders of Pukekawa couple Jeanette and Harvey Crewe. Thomas spent nine years behind bars.