Corrections to pay sole survivor

By Isaac Davison


The sole survivor of an attack at an Auckland Returned and Services Association in which three people were murdered is poised to get a payout from the Corrections Department, 11 years after the savagery.


The department is expected to settle its court battle with Susan Couch, who was left partially paralysed and brain damaged after she was bashed by William Bell in 2001 while he was on parole for aggravated robbery.


Ms Couch argued that Bell should not have been working at the Mt Wellington-Panmure RSA.


It is not known how much the settlement will be worth. Ms Couch has sought $500,000 in damages.


Corrections chief Ray Smith said he expected to settle the legal dispute this evening.


In a statement, he said: "The Department of Corrections has been in recent discussions with Susan Couch and her legal representatives to settle a long-running court action against this department.


"I initiated discussions to achieve an outcome that I believe will be the right thing for Susan and her family."


Ms Couch's lawyer, Brian Henry, who took on her case for free, confirmed that negotiations were expected to be wrapped up.


Bell had been repeatedly denied parole during his five-year sentence for aggravated robbery and was being monitored by Corrections, through the Probation Service.


Mr Henry argued before the High Court in May that the probation officer in charge of Bell had been inexperienced and her bosses had failed to supervise her.


Bell murdered William Absolum, 63, cleaner Mary Hobson, 47, and garage door installer Wayne Johnson, 56, when he went into the RSA to steal $12,000.


All three were bludgeoned with a blunt weapon and one was also shot at close range during what police described as one of the most violent robberies in New Zealand history.


Ms Couch lost 80 per cent of her blood as a result of the bashing.


Bell is serving a life sentence with a non-parole period of 30 years for the murders and the attempted murder of Ms Couch. He is not eligible for parole until 2032.


Ms Couch and the families of the other victims of the attack have been supported by the Sensible Sentencing Trust during the legal battle.


Spokesman Garth McVicar said it would be an overwhelming feeling of relief for Ms Couch to finally reach a settlement.


She had endured years of pain, he said, and her ability to work had been "severely diminished".


She had hoped to receive a large enough payout to be able to buy a home freehold.


In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that Ms Couch could sue for damages for negligence and personal injury but there would be a high test for the claim to succeed.


TVNZ reported Corrections would not accept liability for Ms Couch's circumstances, but would make the settlement to avoid further legal costs.

- The Aucklander

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