Tragic face of youth whose voices are so often silenced

By Tariana Turia

1 comment
NO IDEA: Teina Pora.
NO IDEA: Teina Pora.

It's a story of injustice involving lies, deceit, coercion and manipulation, leading to the conviction of a young, uneducated Maori man with gang connections and has the makings of a high drama that you might expect to see on the big screen.

The young man I am referring to is Teina Pora - who has spent more than 20 years in prison on a rape and murder conviction after being brought in for questioning by the police on an unrelated matter.

Teina Pora was only 17 years of age when he was questioned by police for several days about the rape and murder of Susan Burdett. How the story unfolds is extraordinary and what transpired was a miscarriage of justice.

While being held and questioned on the warrant, Teina was told of a $20,000 reward and indemnity for anyone with information on the rape and murder of Susan Burdett.

Looking to make a quick buck, no doubt, Teina Pora, with no legal representation present during questioning, then made a series of statements indicating he had witnessed the rape and murder.

It is now believed that Teina made up stories to get the reward - it was a fatal mistake and one which sealed his fate.

He was held in custody over four days, during which he was questioned about the Burdett case for 14 hours - all without a lawyer being present.

One would have expected that a crime as serious as this would have warranted the presence of legal counsel and that the police would have insisted that he have legal counsel present - even if he didn't ask for counsel or declined it.

It is our job for those of us in positions of power, including the police, to ensure that the rights of even the most vulnerable are upheld - even if they do not appear to be the ideal citizen or are not a high achiever with prominent family connections - or have previous convictions and are not held in high esteem in the community.

Was it because Teina Pora did not lead an honourable life that it was decided he was not worthy of the rights given to other citizens? Was it because he was young, brown, uneducated and unemployed, with gang associations, that he was not considered worthy of legal counsel? Our legal system entitles us all to legal counsel while being questioned by the police. No matter who we are. We rely on those within the justice system, the police, lawyers, officers of the court and judges to not only do what is legally right, but also what is morally and ethically the right thing.

The injustices that took place during the police interview with Teina were represented for public viewing on TV3 this year and showed how he had got lost taking the police to the scene of the crime and once taken to the right street by the police was then unable to point out Susan Burdett's home without being prompted. These recent revelations about the case and accusations of a miscarriage of justice have prompted calls for an independent inquiry. Acknowledgments must go to reporter Paula Penfold for her tenacity in unravelling this story of injustice on national television.

Sure, Teina Pora was no angel. He had previous convictions. But having criminal convictions should not preclude anyone from their right to justice. What a travesty it is that our justice system has let down some of our most vulnerable, like Teina Pora, and - equally as tragic - has let down the family of the victim, Susan Burdett, who have also waited so long for justice themselves.

Teina's story resonates with us, because we know the challenges our kids face once they are in the system. When injustice occurs - then justice is denied. Teina Pora is the tragic face of youth whose voices are often silenced if they are brown.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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