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NZ Herald
April 2 2006

Cops clear themselves in wrongful conviction case
By Leah Haines

The police have cleared themselves of wrongdoing over a botch-up that left three young girls jailed for a crime they did not commit.

A heavily-censored police report into the wrongful conviction of Lucy Akatere, then 15, Tania Vini, 14, and McCushla Fuataha, 14, shows officers involved in the case were "counselled".

Police told the Herald on Sunday the officers were never found guilty of misconduct or malpractice and continued to work in criminal investigation. That was despite a succession of errors, including failing to check the girls' alibis and hanging the entire case on the word of a 13-year-old later found to be lying.

It is the latest blow for the young women who this week gave up fighting the Government for more compensation. The trio served eight months in prison and were unable to finish school after being convicted of the gang attack and robbery of a teenage girl in Three Kings in August 1999.

They were acquitted in 2001, when the witness admitted she had lied, and the three were proven to have been nowhere near the scene.

The Government has offered them about $135,000 each - compensation awarded under tough new guidelines that restrict payouts for wrongful convictions.

But Queens Counsel Rodney Harrison has predicted the trio will be the only people to have compensation calculated under the rules.

He argued, unsuccessfully, in the High Court that the cabinet rules were unlawful and unworkable. But he said pressure was mounting to have them re-written in the wake of a review of miscarriages of justice which found they were more prevalent than previously thought.

The girls were awarded far less compensation than they would have under the previous system which awarded close to $900,000 to David Dougherty, who had been wrongly convicted of rape.

Former police superintendent Bryan Rowe, who conducted the private investigation which proved the girls' innocence, said it was one of the worst miscarriages of justice he had ever encountered.

Justice Minister Mark Burton confirmed the cabinet rules regarding compensation were to be re-worded soon. But he defended the $135,000 awarded to each girl as "fair" and refused to exercise his discretion to offer them an additional ex gratia payment.