Wednesday, June 8, 2011

NSW cops quick to get it wrong

Listening is too hard for them

It's not often that a magistrate apologises to a person appearing before them. But that's what happened to Musa Konneh last year. "The magistrate said: 'This boy is not meant to be here, why is he here?' The magistrate even said 'sorry' to me," the 19-year-old migrant from Sierra Leone recalled.

In the 12 hours before he appeared before court Mr Konneh had been falsely arrested, handcuffed, strip searched and spent a night in the police cells. Two officers knocked on his door at 9.30pm on a Saturday night and arrested him, insisting he had breached his bail conditions by not reporting to police. He tried to explain they were wrong, but to no avail.

In fact, Mr Konneh was no longer on bail, and his case - for allegedly riding on the train without a ticket - had been dismissed in the Children's Court four days earlier. While the court had a record of the decision, the police computer system, which is meant to receive information from the courts system Justicelink, had not been updated.

A class action was filed in the Supreme Court yesterday against the NSW government over this and other detentions. Mr Konneh is the first young person to join it. The case, launched jointly by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, will be open to other young people detained for a breach of bail conditions that were no longer in place at the time of the detention.

The case would seek to argue that it was "not reasonable" for police to rely on their COPS database when arresting young people for a breach of bail because the problem had been known for years, said Maurice Blackburn's NSW managing principal, Ben Slade. He said there could be at least 200 young people falsely arrested in similar conditions.

Fairfax reported in December that 22 people had been paid $2.7 million in compensation for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment because of the computer problem. The NSW Ombudsman last year reported three cases of Aboriginal men from Kempsey arrested for an alleged breach of bail conditions that were no longer in place.

Mr Slade said police were targeting "vulnerable young people" for the enforcement of bail conditions and Aboriginal children were over-represented among those falsely arrested. Police should only deprive children of their liberty as a last resort, he said.

He called on the government to fix the problem and "take responsibility for this wrongful conduct … and apologise to them and compensate them".


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