A police employee who claimed her boss defamed her in internal papers says she received a letter terminating her employment just hours after losing the court case.

But police say it was just an unfortunate timing coincidence - despite an email obtained by the Herald showing the sender of the letter, the District Commander for Counties Manukau, was aware of the court decision and its result.

Last month, Melissa Jean Opai, a former watch-house supervisor for Counties Manukau police, lost her defamation proceedings against the Attorney-General, on behalf of the Commissioner of Police.

She claimed her former manager, Senior Sergeant Laurie Culpan, made defamatory remarks about her in a draft performance appraisal, an internal briefing paper, a complaint about her, and in diary notes during 2013.


Justice Timothy Brewer's judgment dismissing Opai's claims, after a week-long trial in July, was released at 3pm on August 30.

However, just two hours later, Opai received a letter proposing to terminate her job as a police file management support officer.

"The termination was proposed to happen that same Wednesday, and I was put on garden leave immediately," Opai told the Herald.

In the email with the attached letter, Superintendent Jill Rogers, the District Commander for Counties Manukau, said: "I am aware that today would have been a difficult day for you with the release of Justice Brewer's decision, however the attached document I have prepared for you has been in progress for some time and I am not prepared to delay our discussions around your employment any longer."

Opai's lawyers later received a letter from employment law firm Buddle Findlay, which had been engaged by police during the court proceedings, apologising for sending the termination letter within hours of the judge's decision.

However, despite the correspondence, police seemingly played dumb when contacted by the Herald.

Kaye Ryan, the police deputy chief executive for people and capability, said in a statement "the timing was wholly unintentional".

"At the time the correspondence was sent to Ms Opai, police was not aware that the High Court decision was going to be released that day," she said.

The statement is directly contrary to Rogers' email to Opai.

Ryan did, however, add: "For the avoidance of doubt, Ms Opai has not 'effectively lost her job' and is currently still an employee of police."

She could not comment further for privacy reasons.

After the Herald published tonight's story a police spokesperson sent another statement and said the letter and the cover email "were prepared independently".

"When preparing the letter we did not have knowledge that the court decision would be released on the day the letter was sent," the statement read.

"The cover email was prepared after the court decision had been released hence acknowledging the outcome."

The Counties Manukau Police Station where Opai worked. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The Counties Manukau Police Station where Opai worked. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Opai, a former deputy court registrar, said receiving the letter after the court decision was "clearly very distressing for me".

"Technically, I remain in the employment of the New Zealand Police, although it appears that this will not continue," she said.

"I am just one woman who stood face to face with two Queen's Counsel, Crown Law, Buddle Findlay and our commissioner (and representatives thereof)."

Last week the Herald also revealed police had spent nearly $1 million on the case.

"I was saddened to see that the cost to the taxpayer for defending my claims over a four-year period amounted to $841,590," Opai said.

The cost of the legal fees during the lengthy court proceedings was released by police under the Official Information Act.

Police had engaged Buddle Findlay during the Employment Relations Authority leg of the matter, costing $186,367.

The case was heard in the High Court at Auckland due to the amount of compensation sought by Opai.

Police also used Crown Law, law firm Meredith Connell, and hired Matthew McClelland, QC.

About $132,830 was spent with Crown Law defending the defamation action.

A combined $334,076 was spent on McClelland, who led the defence, and Meredith Connell, which was instructed by Crown Law as the Crown Solicitor's office in Auckland.

A further $188,317 was spent with Buddle Findlay.

The figures for legal fees and disbursements paid by police were to the end of July, after four years of proceedings.

Opai's lawyer Neville Woods said his client was considering appealing the decision. Photo / Dean Purcell
Opai's lawyer Neville Woods said his client was considering appealing the decision. Photo / Dean Purcell

"I wanted the police to do nothing more than follow their own policies and procedures. I made several attempts to be heard by speaking up about bullies, only to come to find that my voice fell upon more than one pair of closed ears," Opai said.

"I believe that I was standing up for my own integrity and for what is right."

Opai said she made two settlement offers to police, asking they provide a retraction, correction and apology, and undertakings to improve the implementation of the police's Speaking Up policies.

"At a later date, I offered to settle the defamation proceeding on receipt of $80,000 plus my legal costs," she said.

Opai had sued Culpan and the Attorney-General for $280,000 each in aggravated damages, according to her initial statement of claim.

However, the High Court earlier dismissed Opai's case against Culpan, who was the commanding officer of the Counties Manukau station at the time, and later awarded him costs of more than $25,000.

Opai's lawyer Neville Woods has told the Herald his client was considering appealing Justice Brewer's decision.

The judge said, in most respects, Opai was a model employee but her sense of responsibility caused friction with other staff, which was a concern for the station's management.

"I fear Ms Opai is now obsessed with the way she perceives she was treated as an employee," he said.

Justice Brewer said in his decision he was "increasingly saddened" as the case progressed and added it came as several personal grievances against police are currently before the Employment Relations Authority.