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December 3 2004

Govt will fight girls' compensation claim - Goff

Three teenage girls jailed for a crime they did not commit were offered compensation packages of about $160,000, Justice Minister Phil Goff said today.

Lucy Akatere and Tania Vini were offered $135,000 each, and McCushla Fuataha was offered $137,500. Other components took the total packages to about $160,000 each.

However, the girls had each rejected the offer, with their lawyer indicating the $1 million paid to Arthur Allan Thomas, who was wrongly convicted of double murder, should be used as a benchmark.

Gary Gotlieb has filed a claim in the High Court at Auckland challenging the way the figure was arrived at and asking the court to decide what was appropriate.

The girls each served seven months in prison after being jointly convicted of an aggravated robbery in Three Kings in August 1999.

Lucy Akatere was aged 15 at the time and her co-accused were aged 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."

Mr Goff today said he regretted the girls had rejected the offer, which was recommended by Wellington QC Kristy McDonald based on government criteria.

"That criteria applies to all people who have suffered this kind of miscarriage of justice, and that was known in advance by the girls' counsel.

"The Government continues to believe it is a fair and appropriate offer and we will vigorously defend the court action being taken."

The girls have described the offer as "seriously inadequate and unlawful".

They claim 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 girls want the court to declare the recommendations unlawful and invalid, and quash them.