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Apology and compensation welcome, payout should be lifted

Opinion Piece

The apology and announcement that Teina Pora will receive a record compensation payout for his unjust imprisonment for the rape and murder of Susan Burdett will be welcomed by the vast majority of New Zealanders.

Justice Minister Amy Adams yesterday unreservedly apologised to Mr Pora and said the Cabinet had approved an offer of compensation worth $2.5 million.

That came after Justice Hansen QC, engaged to review the case, said Mr Pora had established his innocence on the balance of probabilities and could have done so to an even higher standard.

Teina Pora’s story is a tragic one. His mother died when he was four, his father had deserted them, and he went from pillar to post as a young man before becoming a petty thief. More recently it was found he suffered from foetal alcohol spectrum because of his mother’s drinking — something not known at either of his trials.

The background to his arrest and trial would be comedic if it was not so tragic, representing an unbelievable chapter of accidents and errors.

Pora was convicted despite there being no physical evidence to link him to the murder. The prosecution partly relied on a confession extracted after a 14-hour interview without a lawyer present in which the then 17-year-old repeatedly changed his story.

Pora was unable to identify Burdett’s house when he was taken to the street and could not even accurately describe her.

Convicted in two separate trials, he spent 21 years in prison before finally being granted parole in March, 2014. The following year his conviction was quashed by the Privy Council.

It is a long and heart-rending story. The justice system failed him and there is an onus on the country now to ensure his affairs are managed carefully, with the oversight and support needed for him to enjoy the rest of his life.

In that sense it is good the money will go into a trust established to manage his affairs. It is a further injustice, though, that the level of payout established in a 2001 guideline is not being adjusted for inflation.