The apology and compensation made to Teina Pora yesterday is the least the country can do. The catalogue of errors - or more worrying, carelessness - on the part of the police and the justice system reflects poorly on both. Police are trained not to take all confessions at face value. Teina Pora's confession to the rape and murder of Susan Burdett in her Papatoetoe home in 1992 was so riddled with detail the investigating officers must have known to be wrong, that it is hard to find an excuse for it.
Mr Pora was 17 and had obvious intellectual limitations. He was under gang influence. These things alone should have rung warning bells. It is hard to avoid the suspicion the confession was used simply because it was convenient to do so.
No doubt detectives were anxious to solve the crime but even two years after Mr Pora's conviction, when DNA matches proved Ms Burdett was one of 25 known victims of the serial (solo) rapist Malcolm Rewa, the police made no move to review the Pora case.
The defence lawyer assigned to him took the case to the Court of Appeal which quashed the conviction. By then he had spent five years in prison. But even then, the police did not withdraw their charges. Mr Pora was convicted a second time in 2000 and the conviction was upheld in the Court of Appeal. The police went to extra trouble for the re-conviction, using an anonymous jail informant and paying a family member to give evidence.
Mr Pora had spent another nine years in prison when a former detective, Tim McKinnel, who had become a private investigator, decided to act on concerns he had long heard within police ranks about the Pora case. Thanks to the work of Mr McKinnel and a Herald journalist, Phil Taylor, the reasons for those concerns became public. In 2012 a criminal profiling expert had no doubt Mr Pora was innocent. The next year the Police Association joined the call for an independent inquiry into his convictions. Then, crucially, new evidence on the effects of foetal alcohol syndrome came to light.
By the time the convictions were quashed by the Privy Council in 2015 Mr Pora was out on parole having spent 21 years in jail. That is more than half his life.
Now 40, Teina Pora deserves every cent of the $2.5 million awarded to him. The trust set up to manage it for him should ensure he receives all the help he will ever need to spend the rest of his life comfortably and constructively. But what happens now to those who mishandled this case?
Rodney Hansen QC has told the Government he could have found Mr Pora innocent on a higher standard than the balance of probabilities used for compensation decisions. The accused man suffered from "undisputed cognitive deficiencies" that were a "plausible explanation for the profusion of contradictions, inconsistencies and outright falsehoods in his statements." Mr Hansen added, "If judged as an eyewitness account and not as a confession, his evidence would be dismissed out of hand."
Why was it ever used? That is the question police have still to answer.