Rob Kidd is a NZME. News Service court reporter based in Auckland.

Student who hid in cupboard to steal exam papers convicted

A decision on whether the student can return to Otago University is still pending. Photo / File
A decision on whether the student can return to Otago University is still pending. Photo / File

A woman who hid in a cleaners' cupboard until staff had gone home so she could steal nearly 100 exam papers from Otago University has failed in a bid to avoid conviction.

However, the 23-year-old, who appeared in Auckland District Court this afternoon after pleading guilty to a charge of burglary in December, was granted permanent name suppression because of mental health issues.

Judge David Sharp said a conviction would have significant consequences for the woman but it did not wholly outweigh the seriousness of her actions.

He described the defendant as "a good student with a lot of talent" but said the burglary and the wide-reaching impact it had was troubling.

"What you did was not highly sophisticated ... but notwithstanding that, what you did was relatively determined," the judge said.

"You had to conduct quite a search before you found the examination papers."

Judge Sharp sentenced the woman to a year on supervision and ordered her to pay reparation of $6400.

Since charges were laid she had been suspended from the university and a decision on whether she could return was pending.

The woman was a student at the university and sat an exam on November 7.

After she left the room three times to go to the toilet, staff became suspicious and checked the area, where they found handwritten notes.

When the papers were collected at the end, the defendant's paper was separated from the others.

Seeing that, the defendant told invigilators she had seen the notes but denied they were hers.

The exam papers were subsequently taken to the university registry, with the woman's stored on a separate shelf.

Meanwhile that afternoon, the defendant grabbed a pair of rubber gloves, a hoodie and a balaclava and drove to the campus.

After sneaking into the registry she hid in a cleaning cupboard under a bed until staff had gone home and the building was locked up.

Using a steel bracket and other metal implements she smashed her way into various rooms in search of the exam papers, setting off silent alarms as she ransacked the offices, the summary said.

Eventually she found her paper and took 97 other exam scripts from subjects including dentistry, English, political studies and health.

She stuffed them all in a plastic bag, grabbed her belongings from the cleaners' cupboard and left through the main entrance.

Once home she changed her clothes and later drove to Ravensbourne where she threw the stolen papers into the harbour.

"She then drove home discarding the footwear and clothing as she went," the summary of facts read.

Police described the offending as "calculated and premeditated" and stressed the fact Otago University opposed a discharge without conviction.

Defence lawyer Stuart Grieve, QC, acknowledged the damage to the historic university building and the hardship to staff and students affected.

But he said not all of the 97 who had their papers taken had to resit the exams, some were given the option of receiving an aggregate grade based on previous results.

Police said the behaviour was driven by a desire to cover up cheating but Mr Grieve said the evidence simply did not prove that was the case.

She consistently denied that, he told the court.

Letters from the defendant's parents and her church were provided to the court.

"All were surprised, bemused even, that she did this," Judge Sharp said.

- NZ Herald

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