11 May 2011

Apology, compensation for pair wrongfully jailed

10:19 pm on 11 May 2011

The families of two men wrongfully imprisoned for arson have received an apology from the Government and but are critical of the police officer who led the investigation.

In 2004, Phillip Johnston and Jaden Knight were convicted and imprisoned for nine-and-a-half months for the arson of the Manawatu Hotel in Foxton the previous year.

The Court of Appeal quashed their convictions in 2005 and Mr Johnston was acquitted at a retrial, while Mr Knight was discharged.

At Parliament on Wednesday, Justice Minister Simon Power apologised to the men and their families and announced that Mr Johnston is to receive $146,011 compensation, while Mr Knight will be paid 221,936.

Mr Power says people need to be confident the New Zealand criminal justice system is sound and effective and that breakdowns in the system are acknowledged.

However, family members are upset the officer in charge of the arson investigation, Constable Peter Govers, has not been held accountable.

They say Mr Govers has not given them an apology and should not still be working for the police.

However, the Central Police District Commander on Wednesday defended Mr Govers' conduct. Superintendent Russell Gibson says he has apologised but does not think Mr Govers has to, as there are a number of other areas where police failed.

Mr Gibson says an Independent Police Conduct Authority investigation into the incident found it was not entirely the constable's fault.

Mr Govers was demoted in 2007 to the rank of constable after admitting disgraceful conduct in relation to a separate case in which a judge called his behaviour reprehensible.

Meanwhile, Neroli Edwards, the mother of Jaden Knight, says the compensation money does not cover their loss and they feel that the Government has been patronising.

Mr Johnston's mother, Darrel Arcus, spent her retirement savings to clear her son's name.

Ms Arcus and other relatives told the Justice Minister of their hurt and why they believe the sentence should never have been imposed.