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Police admit mistakes in Waitara case

9 October 2004

The policeman who fatally shot Waitara teenager Steven Wallace has questioned the way police handled the news media coverage around his case.

Police admit they made mistakes in the way they got information to the news media after the shooting, but say lessons have been learnt to prevent them happening again.

In a letter to the Police Association newsletter Police News, Senior Constable Keith Abbott asked why his case led news bulletins for weeks, whereas a recent fatal police shooting received little attention.

He referred to the death of Haidar Ebbadi Mahdi, 37, who was fatally shot in the head by police who attended a violent domestic dispute in Pakuranga, Auckland, in August. A constable fired several shots at Mr Mahdi, who was suffering from a mental illness, when he began striking his wife with a knife.

Mr Abbott said he found it hard to believe the news media coverage was so much less intense than around his own case in 2000.

"Have the police finally worked out how to manage the media, or is there too much news around now that police shootings hardly rate a mention?"

Police public affairs boss Michael Player said Mr Abbott was "spot on" with his criticism.

Initial police secrecy forced the media to turn elsewhere for information, leading to a range of sources providing conflicting views of what happened.

"Lessons have certainly been learnt about the necessity of providing as full as information as possible as quickly as possible and not letting a vacuum of news develop whereby the first person to enter the debate . . . leads the news cycles for days on end."

Police had come "a long way in four years" and had dropped their conservative approach to releasing information.

Dewes Haydon

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