Pensioner roughed up by police wins apology

By Cullen Smith

John Bennett at his New Brighton Road property. File photo / APN
John Bennett at his New Brighton Road property. File photo / APN

Pensioner John Bennett will get compensation and an apology from police for the way he was roughed up by armed officers at his home more than two years ago.

An Independent Police Conduct Authority report found police used "excessive force'' during an "unjustifiable and unreasonable'' arrest at Mr Bennett's Burwood home in December 2011.

Mr Bennett was carrying an old air pistol and a toy baseball bat while investigating suspicious noises at his earthquake-damaged home when he was wrestled to the ground by aggressive armed police and had a rifle pressed against his cheek.

The retired engineer, aged 65 at the time, was arrested and thrown in the cells wearing only his underpants and a T-shirt and charged with unlawfully carrying a firearm and possessing an offensive weapon.

It took three court appearances before police dropped the charges.

The IPCA report found the armed officers, who were looking for a fugitive believed to be in the area, used excessive force and acted prematurely without an adequate appreciation of Mr Bennett's situation.

Mr Bennett's solicitor, Graeme Riach, of Harmans Lawyers, confirmed yesterday police had agreed to make "a payment of compensation and to apologise to him''.

But Canterbury police district commander Superintendent Gary Knowles declined to comment.

"The matter remains under discussion between the parties,'' a police spokesman said.

Mr Riach said the amount of compensation would remain confidential "at this stage''.

"We haven't been able to sight the documentation yet,'' he said.

"There will be a satisfactory outcome. We're just awaiting documentation from police and that is due in the next few days.''

Mr Riach said he was unable to confirm whether the compensation would cover all the legal fees and medical expenses that Mr Bennett was seeking.

"There is an agreement that some compensation will be paid and an apology given. The details have yet to be confirmed in writing.''

Mr Bennett said he and wife, Iris, were looking forward to putting the incident behind them after both had been "stressed out'' over the last two years.

"I've been waiting for an apology for over two years now. It's been a long time coming.

"It will be nice to have an apology. They just wouldn't admit it though it was clear they were in the wrong.''

Mr Bennett said the police case against him should never have got to court.

"I don't think it should have gone to court in the first place. The charges were absolutely ridiculous. They should have dropped them at the first opportunity.''

The Bennetts expect to still be out of pocket at least for some of their medical expenses.

Mr Bennett said the compensation offer was "not much, but it will cover our solicitor's bill''.

"We're pleased with that. It's a positive outcome and we can now get on with our lives.

"There's some satisfaction knowing the police were wrong and they're admitting it,'' he said.

"We're not going to forget all about it, but it's some closure.''

Mr Bennett said he was grateful for the media coverage that had forced an outcome.

"If The Star hadn't published those articles, everything would have been pushed under the table.''

Now 67, Mr Bennett said he and his wife were enjoying retirement at Leithfield Beach, where they moved following the earthquakes.

- CHRISTCHURCH STAR

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