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NZ Herald
October 11 2006

$500,000 compo 'too little too late'
by David Eames

The lawyer for three women wrongly convicted and jailed over an attack on a teenage girl has rejected as inadequate Government compensation for the trio.

Gary Gotlieb said yesterday the payouts totalling more than $500,000 to Tania Vini, Lucy Akatere and McCushla Fuataha were "far too little, far too late".

The three were charged after a 16-year-old girl was attacked while having a soft drink in a park in Three Kings while on her way to school in August 1999.

The girl was thumped and kicked and had her head banged against a tree stump. She was then dragged to a nearby toilet block where she was robbed of $10.

Every time the girl said she had no more money, she was cut with scissors, suffering a cut eyebrow, four slashes to a thigh and a stomach wound.

The women, teenagers at the time, were convicted and imprisoned in September 2000 for the aggravated robbery but later had their convictions quashed after two principal witnesses retracted their evidence.

They each spent about seven months in prison before being released.

A protracted court battle ensued with an independent Queen's Counsel - Kirsty McDonald - recommending in 2003 that Ms Vini and Ms Akatere each receive $135,000 for non-pecuniary losses such as loss of liberty and reputation, and interruption of family life.

It was recommended Ms Fuataha receive $137,500 as she received a heavier sentence.

On the advice of counsel, the women challenged the offer but a High Court ruling last December upheld Ms McDonald's original compensation offer.

Last March, the women abandoned their appeals to accept the Crown's deal.

Mr Gotlieb claimed the Government was to blame for the delay but Justice Minister Mark Burton said he had drawn out the compensation process by recommending the women appeal against the initial offer.

"It is of some concern ... that the advice received by the young women had the effect of substantially drawing out the time needed to resolve their compensation claim," he said.

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

But Mr Gotlieb said he had been professionally obligated to urge the women to appeal against the compensation offer after receiving independent advice from three senior Queen's Counsel saying the payment was not appropriate. He said the Crown had dragged the chain in making the payout and, as a result, the women had missed an opportunity to earn interest on their compensation - which he put at about $30,000. He had also had to pay, personally, a number of the women's expenses while they waited for the money. Mr Burton said he was pleased to pay the compensation and wished the women well for the future.

"I do regret that the decisions of others have resulted in more than three years of delay. I think that every step of the way the facts show the Government has moved as quickly as possible to finally resolve this matter. This could have been dealt with three years ago."