RSA survivor close to settling case with Corrections

By Josh Martin

Susan Couch. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Susan Couch. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The lawyer for the sole survivor of a triple slaying in an Auckland RSA says negotiations for compensation with the Corrections Department could be settled by tomorrow night.

Susan Couch was brutally bashed by William Bell at the Mt Wellington-Panmure RSA in December 2001.

Bell also 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's criminal history.

Bell is now serving a life sentence with a non-parole period of 30 years for the murders and the attempted murder of Ms Couch.

He had been released from prison after serving five years for aggravated robbery. He had served his full sentence after repeatedly being denied parole and was released on conditions being monitored by Corrections, through the Probation Service.

Ms Couch sued Corrections for $500,000, alleging he was not being supervised properly when he committed the crime.

Ms Couch's lawyer Brian Henry confirmed that negotiations were taking place.

"We're hoping to have that wrapped up by tomorrow night.''

He said the discussions were initiated by Corrections Department chief executive Ray Smith.

Mr Smith confirmed the department had been in discussions with Ms Couch and her lawyer.

"I initiated discussions to achieve an outcome that I believe will be the right thing for Susan and her family. This is expected to be completed by tomorrow evening,'' he said.

Police and Corrections Minister Anne Tolley told 3 News it would be "a nice Christmas present'' for Ms Couch and her family if a settlement was reached, saying she had "battled her way through the courts''.

Ms Couch's case has resulted in court hearings in the past and any settlement could reduce court costs for Corrections.

In March, Mr Henry alleged the probation officer handling Bell's file had altered the documents.

He said she was inexperienced and her bosses had failed to supervise her.

Ms Couch had been looking forward to her case going to trial which was to happen next year.

She told APNZ in March: "I'll just say that I'm looking forward to my day in court and I'm hoping for a jury.''

Crown lawyers estimated the hearing would be complicated and could take eight weeks.

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

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