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Dominion Post
October 11 2006

Compo for girls' lost youth

Two of the three young women who lost part of their youth after being wrongly jailed for seven months say their $340,000 compensation payout will help buy a better future for their children.

Lucy Akatere, Tania Vini and Kushla Fuataha were just teenagers when they were jailed for a crime they did not commit the aggravated robbery of a 16-year-old girl in an Auckland shopping mall in August 1999.

Justice Minister Mark Burton announced yesterday that the young women had now accepted the original compensation offer, plus legal costs.

Under the deal, Ms Vini will receive $176,621, Ms Akatere gets $162,830 and Ms Fuataha $165,330. The payout amounts to around $775 each per day in jail.

Ms Akatere now lives in Australia. Ms Vini a fulltime mother and Ms Fuataha a hairdressing student both now have two young children, aged one and three. Ms Vini, 22 and Ms Fuataha, 21, said they hoped the compensation would help pay the bills and secure their own and their children's future.

"Just keep it in the trust account in the bank and let the interest grow. Maybe buy a car," Ms Fuataha said.

Ms Vini named her three-year-old son Bryan Gary, as a tribute to lawyer Gary Gotlieb and Bryan Rowe, the private investigator who worked on their case. The pair were also grateful to Ms Vini's father Vini Kaniva, who always believed in their innocence.

Being locked up at the age of 14 and 15 felt like being stranded, the young women said.

"At first I sat and cried," Ms Vini said. "I remember writing letters, and crying, and crying."

But they said they could now finally put the experience behind them and concentrate on their own families.

"We can sit back and laugh about it now," Ms Fuataha said.

Cleared by the Court of Appeal in 2001, the young women were first offered compensation by the Crown in 2003. But they refused the offer, choosing instead to challenge the compensation amount. That challenge was finally dismissed by the High Court in January.

Mr Gotlieb said the Government should be embarrassed at the drawn-out saga.

The trio had accepted the compensation offer in March but it had taken seven months for the money to come through.

Furious at Mr Burton's suggestion that poor legal advice prolonged the settlement process, Mr Gotlieb said he was acting in the interests of the three girls. The case was a disgrace and was studied internationally as being appalling, he said.

"The system has let them down completely. The Government are trying to avoid responsibility. The public gasp for breath the way they have been treated.

"They have lost their youth and their schooling. They have gone through a hell of a lot."