Cops raid wrong house in GPS goof

AMY MAAS
Last updated 05:00 15/09/2013

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Police are being slammed for a "monumental blunder" in which they searched and damaged an Auckland family's home in the hunt for a man who brutally bashed a police officer - but they were at the wrong house.

It is understood officers were meant to search a house on Wymondley Rd, Otara, but instead ended up at a house on Clarrie Wills Way - more than 100m away. Police told the family a GPS error was to blame.

The family told the Sunday Star-Times neighbours saw about 30 officers storm their house last Sunday while they were at church. The police were searching for the man who allegedly attacked Sergeant Simon Tate the night before. Tate, beaten unconscious and left with broken eye sockets and cheekbones, was released from hospital on Friday.

The family returned from church to find their garage door kicked in and a sliding door off its hinges, and thought they had been burgled. Later that day a detective arrived to question the family, who have four children aged four to 15. They said they didn't know the suspect, but soon after several police cars "packed out" the street and about 15 officers surrounded the house. It is not known if the officers were armed.

It was only when the couple saw some police paperwork that they pointed out the officers were at the wrong address.

Police have apologised to the family and are investigating.

The family, who declined to be identified, want compensation, saying they have suffered emotional distress and been left with repair bills.

"My kids are in shock because these are the people they have been taught to trust and one of them actually wanted to be a police officer, but doubts that now," said the mother.

"I went to Ormiston Police Station to file a report for my insurance claim, but they told me I was not allowed to because what the police did was legal and I need to appreciate that my house was not the only house kicked down and I should appreciate the fact that it was their sergeant that was really hurt," she said. "I don't have that money, we can't afford to do that."

The family's lawyer, Kahungunu Barron-Afeaki, said although it was a human error, it was a "classic example where there is a major level of incompetency".

"They go to church, they come back and their house is broken into. And it's not burglars, it's the state," he said.

"There has to be some kind of compensation to make the apology real and there needs to be follow-up to ensure that our future adults don't grow up with a bitter taste about our police."

The woman was visited by Detective Inspector Mark Gutry, field crime manager for Counties Manukau, on Thursday night. Gutry yesterday confirmed his staff were at fault and he was investigating. "Yes, we have made a mistake," he said.

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"We did go to the wrong address so we're taking immediate steps to rectify that and then we'll be looking into what we can do to make sure it doesn't happen again.

"There was some damage caused, which we'll take care of."

He wouldn't confirm if a GPS fault led police to the wrong address.

Because of the "urgency" of the search, it is understood that the officers did not need a paper warrant signed by the court under the Search and Surveillance Act.

Peter Williams, QC, believed the police made "an honest error", and the act was not to blame. "If a mistake has been made, I think it is in the interests of the police to be generous and, without having to resort to the court proceedings, provide adequate compensation."

The family have also complained to Labour's Pacific Affair's spokesman Sua William Sio, who was "appalled".

"It's that sense that we have this power and will do whatever we want . . . you think they'd at least get the address right," he said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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