John De Jong paid out for drug-drive fiascoBy Norrie Ross March 28, 2008 12:59am VICTORIA Police will apologise and pay sizeable damages to a motorist its officers wrongly identified as the first in the world to return a positive roadside drug test. Ballarat courier John De Jong was the victim of a roadside media stunt that went wrong and stigmatised him as someone who was drugged at the wheel of his van. Just weeks before Mr De Jong's defamation action against the police was due to start in the Supreme Court, the case was settled confidentially. A legal source said the payout could be up to $150,000. As well as paying damages, Victoria Police will issue a statement of regret to Mr De Jong, admitting mistakes and apologising for the hurt and embarrassment caused to him and his family. A relieved Mr De Jong, 43, told the Herald Sun he had been through hell. He praised family and friends for standing by him during his three-year fight. "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 appears in defamation cases said he could not comment on Mr De Jong's settlement, but said the payout would be large. "In similar cases, I would expect a figure on settlement of between $50,000 and $150,000," the barrister said. "And of course, Victoria Police will pay the legal costs, and they will be substantial." Mr De Jong was just the fourth driver tested when police set up their new drug bus for roadside saliva testing in Whitehall St, Yarraville, on December 13, 2004. Police command arranged for a big media contingent to witness the first use of the drug bus. The media was told Mr De Jong had tested positive to the presence of cannabis and amphetamines. The information was broadcast by four TV stations that evening. When he returned to his Ballarat home, Mr De Jong found wife Kay and teenage daughters Danielle and Belinda in tears after seeing him on the evening news. The story was broadcast around the world and was heralded as a success for roadside drug testing. An independent laboratory later tested the sample and cleared Mr De Jong - a result confirmed by the police lab. Katalin Blond, of Slater & Gordon, said there were lessons to be learned. "This is an example of where an innocent member of the public was paraded before assembled media and exposed to international media glare," Mr Blond said. "It turned out to be a technical error. This can't be undone. "My client is relieved, however, that this matter has settled without the added stress of a trial." The statement of regret says the case has been settled on confidential terms, and Victoria Police "express their regret that Mr De Jong was the unfortunate victim of an initial technical error on the first day of roadside drug testing . . . with the unintended result that some of the invited media published reports which identified Mr De Jong as having tested positive to illicit drugs. Victoria Police regrets any hurt or upset caused by this incident to Mr De Jong and his family."