Two Upper Hutt teenage girls were arrested, strip-searched and held in a prison cell for 36 hours.
Now a judge has ruled that the girls, aged 14 and 16, suffered a severe abuse of their rights at the hands of the police, who have described their own actions as an "aberration".
The pair were arrested on Saturday, January 7, after a complaint from two other girls, who claimed they had been attacked and had their wallet stolen.
Responding to the call, two officers spoke to the complainants and took descriptions of the offenders before joining another two officers who had located a group of five teenage girls.
After questioning they then took photos of each of the five girls before arresting two for aggravated robbery, despite their denials.
Both girls were denied bail and were strip-searched before being given police-issued pyjamas and placed in a cell, where they remained until their appearance at Youth Court on the Monday.
This meant the 16-year-old was also separated from her 4-month-old baby, whom she was breastfeeding.
In her decision, Youth Court judge Mary O'Dwyer said none of the descriptions taken from the complainants matched the 16-year-old, while the evidence in respect to the 14-year-old was "weak".
The girls did not have a criminal history and were co-operative with police, she said.
Judge O'Dwyer also criticised the police's decision not to release the girls on bail, to keep them in custody for more than 24 hours and for not consulting a senior social worker before doing so, which is required by law.
Both arresting officers were probationary officers who each had little experience on the job or with young people.
"The breaches of the act in this case were serious. [She] was a young person aged 16 and a young mother. She was separated from her very young child who was being breastfed. It appears that no consideration was given to that in the decision to detain her in police custody rather than release her on police bail.
"Both young people were subjected to the embarrassment of removal of their clothing while in police custody. Nothing was found on their person or in their clothing."
Judge O'Dwyer ruled the arrests unlawful and dismissed the charges.
Upper Hutt area commander Inspector Mike Hill said he acknowledged Judge O'Dwyer's findings and would not take the decision lightly.
He described the issues raised as an aberration and expressed his disappointment at some of the actions that took place on January 7 and the days following.
In February, the Upper Hutt and Lower Hutt police areas had been combined and a senior officer now manages all custodial processes.
People arrested and detained were assessed by senior staff to make sure their arrest was lawful and that correct procedures were followed.
After the incident a memo was issued to all staff in the Hutt Valley area reminding them of the obligations regarding youth.
A senior staff member had been given the task of investigating the incident and the process was ongoing, Mr Hill said.
"It is my expectation that the situation which arose in Upper Hutt in January should not occur again, given the comprehensive review of our processes."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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