Friday, 28 March 2008

Cops settle drug test defamation case

Police have settled out of court a defamation claim made by a Victorian man falsely accused of being the world's first motorist to return a positive roadside drug test.

Ballarat courier John De Jong had reached a confidential settlement with Victoria Police over his defamation claim.

The case was to have gone ahead in the Victorian Supreme Court within weeks.

As well as an undisclosed payment, police will give Mr De Jong a statement of regret, admitting mistakes and apologising for the hurt and embarrassment caused to him and his family.

Mr De Jong was the fourth driver tested when police set up a new drug bus for roadside saliva testing in west suburban Yarraville, as the media looked on, on December 13, 2004.

The media pack was told Mr De Jong had tested positive for cannabis and amphetamines use.

The alleged find was broadcast on four Melbourne television news services that evening and was beamed around the world.

Mr De Jong found his wife Kay and teenage daughters in tears when he arrived home, embarrassed by the reports.

An independent laboratory later tested the sample and cleared Mr De Jong. The police lab later confirmed the finding.

Mr De Jong told the Herald Sun he was relieved the ordeal was over and thanked his family and friends for standing by him.

"My family and I are very glad this sorry saga is finally over," he said.

"We never wanted to be in the public spotlight, and we're glad that this episode will soon just be history.

"A technical error caused embarrassment and distress not just for me, but for my wife and children. I look forward to receiving the statement of regret from Victoria Police."

A Melbourne barrister who specialises in defamation cases said he expected Mr De Jong would receive a payout of between $50,000 and $150,000, with police to also pay legal costs.

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