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A south Auckland woman who invented an elaborate story about being raped in her home by an armed man posing as a plain clothes policeman has avoided jail time because of her fragile mental health.

Nicola May, 41, a sickness beneficiary of Papakura, was sentenced today in Papakura District Court to 200 hours community work and 18 months supervision for making a false allegation to police.

Judge Charles Blackie said special conditions attached to the supervision included May receiving treatment from mental health services, being assessed and taking any treatment directed by Odyssey House and continuing any other treatment.

Judge Blackie said he was also taking the unusual direction of wanting police and all the various services that May could come into contact to be "alerted to her propensity of making false claims".

The condition was made as it was revealed by defence lawyer Colin Amery that May had made four previous false claims, three in the South Island and one in Auckland.

May was not charged in those cases.

May was also ordered to pay $10,000 in reparations, to go some way to repay the estimated $60,000 cost of the police operation her claims had caused.

Police said 30 officers had worked on the inquiry over 670 man hours at a cost of $59,382.

May stood passively in the dock and showed little emotion, looking at the judge through most of the sentencing.

May made the false rape claims in April, in a bid to win back the affections of a man she had had sex with after he helped her move into her house in Papakura.

He broke off the relationship because he was married and felt guilty, causing her to become depressed.

May confessed four days later when police inquiries focused on her background.

Judge Blackie said May had developed an "elaborate plan" to gain attention, which required considerable preparation and thought.

May cut her phone line, tore her clothing and tore clumps of hair out of her head, to prove she was a victim, he said.

Her actions caused a massive police operation, with police called back from leave, which had far-reaching consequences, he said.

When Judge Blackie asked if she could see why the issue had been taken so seriously, May replied "yes" and nodded her head.

There was no single victim but rather groups of victims including the community and the police, he said.

There were also the unseen victims, those women who had genuine complaints and who found it difficult to come forward because of her claims, he said.

Judge Blackie acknowledged May had a difficult background and had had problems with anxiety, depression and alcoholism.

It was May's "deep-seeded psychological problems" which spared May from a prison sentence, which the Crown and the community had wanted, he said.

Outside the court May said she was grateful the judge had given her a chance to pay back the community and police.

"I am very sorry to the community and victims and to the police for the damage this has done."

May said she had not been sure whether she would be sentenced to jail.

"I wasn't sure, you can never count your eggs until they're hatched but I do agree that given mental health issues it would not have necessarily been the best thing but I appreciated that it could have been a possibility."

May said it was important for her to pay off the $10,000 even though it was only at the rate of $20 per week.

"If it had taken me until I was 100 I would have paid the full amount and I've said that from the word go, so yes I'm quite prepared to do my best."

May, a qualified pharmacist, said she intended to return to work but she did not know when that would be.

She had the support of the mental health services and her family and friends throughout and would work hard with their help to put her life together.

Outside the court Mr Amery said the judge had been fair and the vital factor had been the psychological report.

May had been on a knife-edge leading up to sentencing and she did have a lot of remorse for her actions.

Mr Amery called again for a register to allow police to track false complaints saying the situation may have been avoided if police had access to false complaints on a database.

"There should be a register, because there are from time to time quite a lot of these false complaints."

- NZPA