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October 10 2006

Wrongly jailed teenage girls accept compo

Three young Auckland women who were wrongly jailed have accepted compensation ranging between $162,000 and $176,000 each, Justice Minister Mark Burton announced today.

Lucy Akatere, Tania Vini and McCushla Fuataha each served seven months after being falsely convicted of the aggravated robbery of a 16-year-old girl in Three Kings shopping mall in Auckland in August 1999.

Ms Vini and Ms Fuataha were 14 at the time and Ms Akatere was 15.

In October 2001 the Court of Appeal quashed the trio's convictions, offering them the court's sympathy after being "let down by the system".

"I am glad that this matter has been resolved and I wish the young women well in the future," Mr Burton said.

He said it was concerning that the compensation took so long and blamed that on advice the women received.

"This is even though it was clear that the level of compensation initially offered was fair and reasonable when assessed alongside Cabinet criteria," he said.

"This was confirmed by a High Court judgment in 2005 relating to the compensation offer."

Mr Burton said a standard process was followed. First a QC was commissioned to assess eligibility, then an independent lawyer Kristy McDonald QC was appointed and confirmed they should be compensated.

In 2003 Ms McDonald QC recommended $135,000 be paid to Ms Vini and Ms Akatere for loss of liberty, reputation loss or interruption of relationships and for mental and emotional harm.

She recommended Ms Fuataha get a bit more $137,500 because she got a longer sentence and was accused of wounding the victim.

Ms McDonald also recommended reimbursement of legal and investigator costs.

In 2004 the Government offered the compensation but it was not accepted and court action followed.

In December 2005 the High Court declined the application for review of the Cabinet decision.

Further action was taken on the grounds of how the legal costs were calculated but again the court ruled in the Crown's favour.

The final payouts would be $176,621.36 for Ms Vini, $162,830.36 for Ms Akatere and $165,330 for Ms Fuataha.

These figures included pecuniary losses Ms Vini's were nearly $42,000 and the other two nearly $30,000 each.