24 Jul 2014

Police say sorry to rapist's victims

10:08 pm on 24 July 2014

Police are saying sorry to the victims of serial rapist Malcolm Rewa, now that officers have been faulted for failing to properly investigate their complaints.

Rewa assaulted 25 women in Auckland in the 1980s and 90s.

Assistant Commissioner Malcolm Burgess.

Assistant Commissioner Malcolm Burgess. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

A report by the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) released on Thursday says police failed to properly investigate the first known attack in 1987 by Rewa, who went on to assault at least 24 other women, including murder victim Susan Burdett.

He was finally caught in 1996 and is serving 22 years in jail.

Rewa's first known victim recognised him and gave his name and description twice to police shortly after he attacked her in December 1987. Officers never took another statement from her, didn't speak to Rewa until June of the following year, and failed to check his alibi that he was with his partner and another person at the time.

Police on Thursday apologised to four of Rewa's victims who complained to the IPCA, which says they were let down by shoddy police work.

However, the IPCA has recommended no changes to police practices, as the authority says they've improved significantly since then. It also says that had mistakes not been made, it's unclear if that would have prevented Rewa's subsequent offending.

Police said they will consider any requests for compensation through normal processes. Assistant Commissioner Malcolm Burgess admitted to Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Thursday that police didn't do their job properly - but stopped short of saying the failings allowed Rewa to continue his offending.

"There was an opportunity here for us to follow up the information we were given and do the best job that we could with the information that was provided to us. What the possible outcomes could have been, we don't know. They could have been much better than they were, obviously."

Mr Burgess said police haven't had a chance to talk to victims and victims haven't raised it yet. However, he said he is very open to that should it occur, and to apologising directly and privately.

"There has not been an opportunity thus far, but it's one that I'm happy to explore if it's something they'd would like. But it's also something I don't want to go to them if they don't want to see us."

Mr Burgess said it's a case of trying to balance the women's needs and wishes against police doing the right thing.

The Assistant Police Commissioner said it was clear more should have been done in aspects of some of the early investigations. He said police practices had since changed and he was confident the same complaint would be handled differently today.

The report highlighted poor interviewing practices, lack of supervisory oversight and greater priority being given to other serious crime. However, there had been a transformation in how the police managed such investigations since the time of these offences, with greater emphasis being placed on responsibilities to victims, Mr Burgess said.

Inaccurate comments made

Judge Sir David Carruthers.

Judge Sir David Carruthers. Photo: RNZ

Police were found to have made inaccurate comments to the public about the case at the time. About the time of Rewa's 1988 trial, a detective inspector told the media that police had done all they could to follow up on all complaints. The IPCA said that statement was inaccurate.

It also identified aspects in a number of investigations where police strategy and practices in sexual assault investigations did not meet the expectations of policing at that time, such as poor practices in interviewing complainants, lack of supervisory oversight and the failure to follow up positive lines of inquiry.

However, IPCA chair Sir David Carruthers said there was insufficient evidence to suggest that any of the police's failings impacted on their ability to identify Rewa as the serial sex offender earlier.

"It is not clear that any of these would necessarily have lead to Mr Rewa's arrest, successful prosecution or earlier identification as the serial sex offender."

The investigation was prompted by four people coming forward last year saying police had mishandled their inquiry.

As well, Jim Burdett, brother of 1992 rape and murder victim Susan Burdett, said his sister would still be alive if a charge against Rewa four years earlier had been looked at properly.

Teina Pora was convicted for the Burdett case but denies responsibility and her brother blames Rewa, who was sentenced to 14 years jail for the sexual assault of Ms Burdett. He is serving that sentence concurrently. Pora has been released from jail on parole. The Privy Council will hear his case later this year.

Sir David said on Thursday said there had been significant practical, scientific and technological advances in policing and it would therefore be unfair to compare police actions of that era with the standards of today.

"The authority has found that at the time of the police investigations, spanning from 1987-1996, it was not common practice for intelligence to be shared between districts, nor did a platform exist to allow this to occur easily," he said.

"Police work at this time was primarily paper-based and it is unlikely that traditional methods of policing could have uncovered the operation of a serial sex offender earlier. Today there is a different approach to adult sexual assault cases, generally, and progress has been made particularly with regard to the treatment of victims of sex crimes."

The IPCA was therefore satisfied no changes were required to current practices, policies and procedures in response to its findings, Sir David said.

Victims deserve compensation - author

A criminologist who wrote a book about the stories of some of the victims says they all deserve an apology and compensation. Jan Jordan of Victoria University spoke to 15 women raped by Rewa for her 2008 book Serial Survivors.

"One of the most important things I think for any woman who experiences rape is to feel believed and validated in terms of her experience. And I think even an apology and perhaps some compensation would go some way to helping to validate the feelings that some of these women obviously have."

Ms Jordan said she believes Rewa could have been identified by police earlier.