Not just deal with the detritus of society, but real pe' />

One thing John liked about becoming a policeman was that it's a job where you can do good.

Not just deal with the detritus of society, but real personal good. Catch a thief, maybe even return some poor bugger's valuables.

"The bit of gratification you get from the odd person saying 'thank you' went a long way,"says John. "I really enjoyed that side of the job."

The job, though, altered his world view.

John grew up in a medium-sized town, his family connected to rural life though country cousins and his father's meat inspector job.

He was raised to respect others, "treat everyone as you want to be treated yourself".

That's how he thought it was for everyone until, in his early 20s with an apprenticeship behind him, he changed tack and joined the police - a career change his dad made too, decades before.

John spent six years as a cop, did some good and got some satisfaction but didn't like how it jaundiced his view of people. He'd thought everyone had an ethos like his but came to realise some "just don't give a shit".

Susan Jones* is this type of person. She built a lie that shattered not only John's life but that of Tracey, a non-sworn watchhouse officer, whose job was to answer the phones, dispatch officers and help keep the station ticking over.

In a moment, on a nondescript day in May last year, John, a father of a young family, lost control of his life. He was called aside, told someone had accused him of rape and handed a stand-down notice. He was out on his ear and from that day has never been back.

"It was just amazement, total shock," John told the Weekend Herald. "I couldn't believe it. Disheartened, dejected, devastated, any of those sorts of words you might think of, that's how I felt."

He couldn't imagine who might make such an accusation. The name Susan Jones hardly registered, except that she'd pleaded not guilty to theft and fraud charges he'd laid against her, requiring him to prepare the case for prosecution.

He wasn't given details and no one at that stage asked if he might have an alibi proving the accusations false. He became the suspected rapist, rather than the victim he proved to be.

His treatment by the police hierarchy was unusual. John describes it as "a knee-jerk reaction".

Normally, some initial inquiry would be made to test such an allegation but these were unusual times, "a political hothouse", as Crown Prosecutor Simon Moore described them in court last week.

What Moore was referring to was this: Jones made her complaint in February last year, days after dramatic allegations of being gang-raped by police officers etched Louise Nicholas' name on to the national consciousness.

By the time John was given his marching orders, police national headquarters was looking at a public relations disaster.

Several other women had come forward alleging historical rape by policemen.

One of those was Jones. John and Tracey met her once - on the day she was charged with theft and fraud, crimes she eventually admitted.

John was investigating the theft of credit cards and a chequebook from the home of a 95-year-old woman. Inquiries at shops where the cheques were cashed led him to Jones. A search of her flat turned up stolen credit and bank cards and more were found when she was searched at the station.

With no sworn female police officer available, Tracey was asked to do a pat-down search but was delayed by a phonecall to the watchhouse. By the time she became free, Susan Jones, who had been asking to go to the toilet, had wet herself.

Tracey says she had felt sorry for Jones because of her predicament, got her a pair of overalls so she had something dry to wear, and took things slowly, explaining what the search would involve.

She didn't touch Jones, she told the Weekend Herald, except for grabbing her hand in which Jones, was trying to conceal several other cards wrapped in a handkerchief.

Jones later claimed the 29-year-old, a mother of two infants, had sexually violated her by inserting her fingers into her [Jones'] vagina and anus. She also alleged that Tracey and John had somehow colluded in what she claimed were sexual acts.

Tracey tells how the allegations hit like a bolt from the blue, of thinking "It's okay, I can handle this" as a detective put one allegation to her after another.

"I thought 'this is ridiculous', but with each allegation I started breaking down. I just couldn't stop the tears. I will never forget that day. I just couldn't understand why she would say such things when I had tried to be kind to her."

A team of Auckland detectives were assigned to investigate.

"The further we went into it, the more details she supplied to substantiate her claims. That was her downfall," says Detective Inspector Steve Rutherford, Counties Manukau crime manager, who oversaw the inquiry.

She claimed John had raped her at her flat on four specific dates. She was emphatic about the dates. She'd rung her lawyer, who'd taken notes, and told her partner, who marked March 18 on their kitchen calendar with a note "the arsehole turned up".

Rutherford: "There's no way any of these sexual claims happened because he had an alibi for each of the days, and in particular March 18.

"From the day before until four days later he was hundreds of kilometres away and that was substantiated by several people and [transactions on] his Visa card."

Rutherford says no more serious allegation could be made against an officer and that's why such an experienced prosecutor was brought in - Moore's last case was samurai sword murderer Antonie Dixon.

It may also have helped make a point at a time when police had not had the best publicity. Judge Robert Spear needed little time to find Jones guilty of making false allegations.

The judge described them as "bizarre" and suggested the woman seemed to have developed "a strange fascination" with John.

She'd told a neighbour she was having an affair with a married policeman and pressed on her she was not to tell her partner. The neighbour gave evidence of Jones' cheerfulness about the arrangement.

This, too, appears to have been a lie. The neighbour had not noticed any male visitors, though voices could easily be heard through the wall between their flats.

The evidence suggested Jones, who had lost her cleaner's job, stole to support her pastimes of playing the pokies and drinking at local pubs.

Moore suggested to the court her allegations were pure connivance inspired by the Louise Nicholas publicity and aimed at getting her off the fraud and dishonesty charges.

Police will press for a prison sentence. She has been in and out of jail. The former prostitute has numerous convictions: fraud, theft and driving offences.

Now 44, she was sent to prison 20 years ago for causing the death of a person through her careless driving.

With her allegations against John and Tracey, she has two more victims. They welcome her conviction but say the damage can't be undone.

John broke down on the phone trying to explain to his father he'd been stood down because a woman says he raped her. "I couldn't get the words out. A colleague had to take the phone from me."

Had his marriage not been strong it would have been destroyed, he says, because it's such an insidious allegation. He believes he may always now be distrustful and likens his efforts to cope to grieving after a death.

"Have you heard of Dabda [denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance], the process of grieving. I still go through the 'why me' every day."

He would rather have been stabbed. "Honestly, it would have been easier. It's a funny thing to hear but you can almost see that coming. No way did I see this coming.

"In police college they teach you how to do paper work, how to disarm someone with a weapon, how to drive a car in [a pursuit], how to make an arrest. They don't teach you how to deal with someone laying a rape complaint against you."

Learning that Tracey was accused too was another body blow.

"You hear it so often, 'I hope my son or daughter did not die in vain'. Hell, I don't want anyone else to go through what I have. I cried when I heard she had made an accusation against someone else."

Her experience robbed Tracey of her passion for the job and she questions whether she can continue to work for the police. Her response was to throw herself into her work but months later the cork came out of the bottle and she had a breakdown.

There were difficulties at home as she and her partner coped in different ways. He couldn't understand why months were spent investigating clearly farcical claims.

"Don't they know you are incapable of it," he would say, while Tracey wanted to talk about "how hurt and devastated I was".

Tracey plans to take the opportunity at sentencing to stand before Jones and tell her the damage she's caused. That will help, but the clock cannot be turned back. She is forever changed by Jones' lies.

"I realise now it doesn't matter who you are ... you are still susceptible to someone who might want to make up allegations against you."

Their experience sends a shudder up the backs of all police. What's been lost, since the Louise Nicholas publicity, is the presumption of innocence when an officer is accused.

*Names have been changed to protect identities and comply with court orders