A Canberra woman was plunged into a ''Kafka-esque'' nightmare of unemployment, anxiety and paranoia after ACT Policing wrongly branded her a criminal, according to her lawyers.
In a case that earned the police force a sharp rebuke from the Privacy Commissioner, Leah Jane Houstein spent months trying to clear her name after her identity was used as an alias by a criminal offender.
She is now suing the police for hundreds of thousands of dollars after being denied work in the Commonwealth Public Service when a security check showed convictions for another woman's crimes.
Neither ACT Policing or the Commonwealth has admitted liability in the case.
According to her lawyers, Ms Houstein was left in bureaucratic limbo and her life went into a downward spiral while trying to prove her innocence, with police, the courts and prosecutors all saying they were powerless to help.
According to papers lodged with the ACT Supreme Court, Ms Houstein's nightmare began in 2005 when a distant acquaintance, Charmaine Leah Dugan, was convicted in the ACT Magistrates Court of drink driving, unlicensed driving and giving a false name - that of Ms Houstein - to police.
But police records recorded Ms Houstein as the criminal and she only became aware of the blunder more than two years later when a job offer from the Department of Defence was withdrawn because she had ''not satisfied the conditions'' of a security check.
After police told the 26-year-old that her record - which was otherwise unblemished - contained Dugan's crimes, it took six months for the force to correct the mistake and issue a clean criminal record for Ms Houstein.
After a complaint from Ms Houstein to the Federal Privacy Commissioner, Assistant Commissioner Mark Hummerston found that the police had breached the Privacy Act.
He told ACT Policing to provide better protection to innocent victims whose names had been used as aliases by criminals.
Ms Houstein, who endured unemployment and poverty and who developed a major depressive disorder, told The Canberra Times that she felt her life was being destroyed by the blunder. ''Nobody would help me, no-one knew how to deal with it,'' Ms Houstein said
''I was crying, I was defamed, I was treated like a criminal.'' Ms Houstein's lawyer, Mark Barrow, of Ken Cush and Associates, likened his client's experience to the writings of Franz Kafka and called on the police to admit liability.
''It has been a traumatic and Kafka-esque experience for my client,'' Mr Barrow said.
The case is set to go to court for directions later this month.