6 Dec 2012

$300,000 settlement for survivor of RSA killings

10:56 pm on 6 December 2012

The sole survivor of the RSA triple murders is to receive a $300,000 settlement from Corrections, ending years of legal wrangling with the department.

Susan Couch had been suing Corrections for $500,000 after it emerged that the Probation Service was not properly monitoring William Bell when he carried out the killings.

Susan Couch was almost beaten to death by Bell during the attack at the Mt Wellington-Panmure RSA on 8 December 2001 and has not fully recovered from her injuries. He is serving a prison term of 33 years without parole for the murders of William Absolum, Mary Hobson and Wayne Johnson.

Mrs Couch has spent the past seven years fighting the department in court and details of the settlement were released on Thursday night.

Corrections' chief executive Ray Smith says Mrs Couch and her supporters were spending a lot of time and money on the claim and the department was also spending a lot defending it.

Mr Smith says it was important for both parties that the deadlock was broken.

"A tragedy occurred. Susan has suffered a really horrific hardship as a result, and the last thing I wanted was to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars defending a court case with Susan Couch when I thought I could do something to change her life."

Mr Smith said today's Probation Service is quite a different one to that which operated in 2001 and has undergone significant changes to staffing and training. However, he said even with that, no one can ever rule out a parolee committing a serious crime in the future.

Susan Couch's lawyer Brian Henry says his client is happy with the settlement, but will still seek proper compensation from the Accident Compensation Corporation.

"In New Zealand you can't get compensation. If we sued for compensation in the old terms, we'd be looking for a sum in the order of $5 million to $10 million. All we can get now is what's called compensation from ACC.

"What we're now looking for is to get ACC for Sue at a proper level - which doesn't happen at the moment. We think that's totally wrong."

Mr Henry says Mrs Couch should not be on a social welfare benefit, but instead receive ACC compensation which would allow her to buy a house, get rid of debt and provide an income base.

Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesperson Garth McVicar said he is pleased Mrs Couch is being compensated, but is disappointed that what he calls systemic failures in the parole system will not be exposed in court.

He told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Thursday the only reason the department has come to the table is to shut down debate.

Mr McVicar said Corrections' handling of William Bell was shoddy and hoped the settlement would include acknowledgement of its wrongdoing.