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Privy Council quashes Pora convictions

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 3/03/2015
Teina Pora is a free man © 3 News Teina Pora is a free man

WELLINGTON, NZN - More than 20 years after Teina Pora was jailed for the rape and murder of Susan Burdett the Privy Council in London has quashed his convictions on the basis that a previously undiagnosed brain injury meant his confessions were unreliable.

Lawyer Jonathan Krebs said he was allowed to tell Pora about the decision a couple of hours before it was handed down in central London on Tuesday morning (late Tuesday night NZ time).

"It was a very, very emotional moment," Mr Krebs told Radio New Zealand.

"He was silent for a while as the reality of the situation sunk in and then as it did, of course the smiles began."

Pora was surrounded by friends and family in Auckland, including his daughter and grandson, as he watched the live feed of the proceedings in the UK.

Mr Krebs said it's been a "tense four months" waiting for the Privy Council's decision, but he and the rest of the legal team were "as confident as we could be".

"We knew when we went to London we put forward every argument we could, we argued firmly. Even now we can't think of anything that we didn't say that we should've said," he told TVNZ's Breakfast.

The lawyer said it was noteworthy the Privy Council hadn't automatically ordered a retrial "as usually happens in cases where a conviction is quashed on appeal".

Lord Brian Kerr on Tuesday asked the parties to instead make written submissions within four weeks "as to whether the appellant should be ordered to stand trial again".

READ MORE: Pora case shows holes in NZ system: expert

But he suggested Pora - who was released on parole in April 2014 - should not face a fresh trial over the 1992 rape and murder of Ms Burdett in her south Auckland home.

Lord Kerr said prosecutors had accepted expert evidence that Pora suffered previously undiagnosed foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and "on one view this would admit of only one conclusion, namely, that that affirmation of the appellant's convictions could not be contemplated".

Pora's legal team argued during a two-day hearing in November that Pora's brain injury - not raised at previous trials - led him to make false confessions.

Lord Kerr, who heard the case with four other judges, on Tuesday made clear that the expert evidence of clinical neuropsychologist Valerie McGinn and consultant psychiatrist Andrew Immelman was key to the court's decision.

Dr McGinn described FASD as "Swiss cheese brain damage" with some processes remaining intact while others were deficient.

She said when Pora was questioned in early 1993, aged 17, he was actually thinking and acting like a child of eight to 10.

"He was not able to comprehend the meaning of complex words or sentences, grasping parts but missing much of the meaning," the neuropsychologist said.

It was suggested Pora could have made false confessions because he was immature, easily led and prone to engaging in compulsive behaviour without considering the consequences.

Lord Kerr on Tuesday stated: "The combination of Pora's frequently contradictory and often implausible confessions and the recent diagnosis of his FASD leads to only one possible conclusion and that is that reliance on his confessions gives rise to a risk of a miscarriage of justice."

"On that account, his convictions must be quashed," he said.

Pora's first conviction in 1994 was overturned after DNA evidence linked the attack on Ms Burdett to serial rapist Malcolm Rewa who was found guilty of her rape in 1998.

But Pora was found guilty of murder and rape again at a retrial in 2000.

Lord Kerr said the impact of a confession, especially to a heinous crime, was difficult to overstate.

"The natural reaction to such an admission is that it is bound to be true," he said.

"Why would someone confess to a dreadful crime if they were not guilty of it?

"But experience has shown that false confessions, even to the most serious of offences, are often made."

In a brief statement, Assistant Police Commissioner Malcolm Burgess noted the Privy Council's comments that police didn't exert pressure on Pora to make a confession.

Mr Burgess said police will take time to fully consider the judgment and he expects they will be consulted by Crown Law regarding any submissions on a retrial.

Meanwhile, Ms Burdett's brother Jim - who has long thought Pora didn't kill his sister - said he was pleased by the Privy Council's judgment.

"It's a closure in the sense that a gross injustice has been revealed," he told 3News.


* 1992: Susan Burdett raped and murdered in her Auckland home

* 1993: Teina Pora, then 17, arrested for rape and murder of Ms Burdett

* 1994: Pora found guilty at trial

* 1999: Court of Appeal quashes conviction, orders a retrial after Malcolm Rewa found guilty of Ms Burdett's rape

* 2000: Pora found guilty a second time

* 2003: Pora becomes eligible for parole

* 2013: Pora's lawyers launch appeal to Privy Council

* April, 2014: Pora released on parole, 21 years after first being detained

* November, 2014: Privy Council hears appeal

* March, 2015: Privy Council quashes Pora's convictions.

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