By GEOFF CUMMING and CHRIS DANIELS
Four Mongrel Mob gang members have received thousands of dollars in a secret Government payout to compensate them for being beaten by prison guards in the 1990s.
The men were among nine prisoners whose complaints of systematic beatings and torture at Hawkes Bay's Mangaroa Prison sparked a ministerial inquiry in 1993.
The compensation and a formal apology come three years after the Solicitor-General's office decided not to prosecute the prison staff.
The convicted criminals asked for $350,000 each in compensation.
Twelve guards were sacked after an inquiry into the beatings, although some were later re-employed and compensated for wrongful dismissal.
Details of the prisoners' settlement are secret, but the payments are believed to be substantial.
The men sought a total of $1.4 million in a civil suit lodged in late 1998 after the decision not to prosecute.
Corrections Minister Matt Robson said a civil case against the Crown would have succeeded, but prosecutions against individual prison officers might not have.
He said the National Government delayed proceedings because it did not want election-year headlines saying it had paid money to gang members.
He described Mangaroa - subsequently renamed Hawkes Bay Regional Prison - as operating a system of "lynch law" in the early 1990s.
Three of the four gang men are still behind bars.
John Wharemako Gillies is serving 12 years for various crimes, including the screwdriver stabbing of Gisborne police officer Nigel Hendrikse in 1993.
Michael Dean Ratima, 29, was jailed for rape and had six years added to his sentence for stabbing a prison officer with a chisel.
Released in May, he is back in jail after an attack on a Wellington woman.
Warren Charles Te Hei was convicted in 1997 of trying to kill a gang "prospect" who refused to stab a guard at Paremoremo prison as part of an initiation. He was already in jail serving a nine-year sentence for aggravated robbery.
Nevara Raymond Raheke, jailed for rape, was released 18 months ago.
The Wellington lawyer who led the compensation negotiations, Tony Ellis, said he was happy with the outcome, but still found it difficult to believe the guards were never prosecuted.
"Regardless of what you have done, you have basic human rights, including the right to safety - and this settlement goes some way to recognising that."
Inquiries found that the prisoners were beaten by hit-squads of guards, held naked in outdoor pens overnight and denied medical attention.
Gillies and Ratima have been compensated for a series of 1991 beatings that followed the stabbing of a staff member.
Opposition justice spokesman Tony Ryall challenged Attorney-General Margaret Wilson to say publicly how much taxpayer money was paid to "these hardened criminals."
The Mangaroa saga began in January 1993 when the Justice Department ordered an independent investigation after seven inmates said they were beaten over several days after a guard was attacked.
Seventeen staff were suspended while the Wellington-based Morley Security Group investigated.
Twelve of the 17 suspended officers were dismissed in June and those who kept their jobs were given final warnings.
The subsequent ministerial inquiry found senior officers used informal hit-squads of guards, known as "designated hitters," to restrain and beat inmates.
The Crown's apology was made yesterday in a three-sentence statement issued by Margaret Wilson.
It says significant changes have been made to ensure that what happened at Mangaroa cannot happen again.By Chris Daniels Email Chris, Geoff Cumming Email Geoff