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Top cop explains delay in perjury case

Published: 10:53AM Tuesday September 28, 2010 Source: ONE News

Southland's top police officer says a number of changes to processes have taken place since the crash in which a Dunedin police officer lied to get a conviction for a teenage driver instead of himself.

Neil Robert Ford, 56, the police officer who lied under oath, was today jailed two years and four months for perjury.

The sentence concluded a five-year court case concerning a car crash between the senior constable and 17-year-old Shane Cribb.

Ford was found guilty last month of lying over his account of the crash in July 2005.

Tonight on Close Up, southern district commander Superintendent Bob Burns said that the delay in bringing Ford to justice could not be avoided.

"It took some time for the inconsistencies in Neil Ford statement to come through and then it was completely investigated by and independent investigator from outside the district.

"It should be clear that these two officers withheld some fairly crucial information for a number of years and that contributed to the time delays," he said.

He said that the experience had been an important learning curve for the police force.

"We have learnt from some of these investigations and we've changed some of the processes and policies to make sure that this kind of thing never happens again in Southland," he said.

Burns expressed his disappointment at Ford dragging the case out for so long by continually denying he was at fault.

"It's absolutely disappointing, it cuts to the very core of us, and this whole thing need not have happened if he'd only come forward at the time with his admission of what he had done at the crash scene and none of this would have occurred," he said.

He said it was important that the allegations were heard in the end and those in the wrong punished.

"To tell the honest truth it's good to cut this kind of behaviour from the force and show the public we take this kind of thing very seriously," he said.

Case history

Ford had been driving a police car that was hit by Cribb, when the officer pulled out in front of the teenager on a rural road near Alexandra.

The policeman claimed he had been in the middle of the road turning, and because of Ford's court testimony, the teenager, now 22, was found guilty in 2006 of causing the accident and convicted of careless driving causing injury.

Sentencing Ford at Dunedin District Court today, Judge Paul Kellar said the officer's lie had consequences.

"The consequences of your false evidence were twofold. One - an innocent person was convicted. Two: you, as probably the guilty party, were not charged with the offence.

"Our society puts great trust in its police force, police officers have significant powers. It's vital to public confidence that they exercise them with undeviating integrity," Kellar said.

Ford's lawyer Nic Soper said his client had lost a lot for his lie.

"He's lost the status of an honest and upstanding member of his community. He's lost his self respect, and perhaps most significantly, he's lost his future and his occupation as a police officer," Soper said.

Persistence by a supporter and close friend of Cribb, Steve Potter, saw the case go back to court and Cribb cleared of the charge in 2008, after new evidence became available.

That evidence included reports from specialist road-crash analysts, who showed the accident could not have happened the way Ford had claimed.

Experts and witnesses said Ford did a U-turn without looking and that made it impossible for Cribb to avoid him.

The Crown prosecutor said Ford knowingly misled the court to avoid the consequences of the truth about the accident coming out.

Under cross examination, Ford was adamant his memory was that he had been doing a right-hand turn.

He could not explain why he remembered the accident this way when evidence later proved he was doing a U-turn, rather than a right-hand turn, and was clearly at fault.

Cribb said today he was relieved his ordeal was finally over.

"I definitely feel like an old man, wish I could have my five years back. It's made me really angry and brought me into an ugly little ball of fury. And all that anger went towards the justice system and the cops."

And he paid tribute to his persistent supporter, tyre salesman Potter.

"He was a lawyer, he was a counsellor and he was a crash-scene investigator. Without Steve I would they would have just pushed it all away and I would still be framed today," Cribb said.

Potter said he worked out what had really happened within days of the accident.

"If I could see what was gapingly wrong, why couldn't the authorities? That's the thing that I really still struggle with."