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NZ Herald
October 11 2006

Wrongly jailed women 'mistreated because young and brown', say lawyers

Lawyers claim three wrongly jailed women did not get higher compensation because of their age, race and social background.

Yesterday it was announced that Lucy Akatere, Tania Vini and McCushla Fuataha are to get payments ranging between $162,000 and $176,00.

Their lawyer Gary Gotlieb has said the compensation is not enough and he believed the girls had been "mucked around" because they were young and Polynesian.

Another lawyer, Peter Williams QC, who is also president of the Howard League for penal reform, said today there was "no doubt the colour of their skin" was a factor and if the women were people of high status their compensation would have been far greater.

Mr Williams told National Radio this morning: "I think there is a prejudice against people in what you may call the lower economic strata, I also think there is a prejudice against Maori people -- I think there is also a prejudice in this country against anyone who is a minority group."

The women each served seven months in prison after being falsely convicted of the aggravated robbery of a 16-year-old girl in an Auckland shopping mall in August 1999, before being cleared in 2001.

Mr Williams said an additional payment should be made because the amount was "very shabby".

Three previous legal opinions said the women should get at least $250,000 each and considering the length of time the payouts had taken with no interest the payout was inadequate, he said. However, he wasn't surprised by the outcome.

The women had been in prison as girls and suffered degradation and humiliation of imprisonment.

"I won't go into detail but some of it apparently was pretty awful, they'll have nightmares for the rest of their lives and this paltry sum that's been paid out is really very insignificant," he said.


'No evidence'


However, Justice Minister Mark Burton said there was no evidence of racism and the final figure was determined by an independent QC.

Mr Burton said independently appointed QC Kristy McDonald had looked at all facts of the case in 2003, made a recommendation that the Government accepted, and the offer was made. Subsequent court action caused the ongoing delays.

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

In October 2001 the Court of Appeal quashed the trio's convictions, offering them the court's sympathy saying they had been "let down by the system".

The women in 2003 rejected offers of between $135,000 and $137,500 in compensation, but decided to stop fighting for a higher figure in March.

The final payouts of $176,600 for Ms Vini, $162,800 for Ms Akatere and $165,330 for Ms Fuataha included pecuniary losses.

Mr Burton said the claims of racism were "generalistic" and a fair process was followed.