The great author Witi Ihimaera has admitted to plagiarism. There is probably no greater sin an author can commit. The world comes down heavily on plagiarism. It is cheating. It is theft of intellectual property.

What's more, Ihimaera is a professor of English. He is also a Distinguished Creative Fellow in Maori Literature at the University of Auckland. Ouch! What titles these university types give themselves. Ihimaera's new book, The Torwenna Sea is a 528 page novel. 0.4 per cent of it is plagiarised. I make that about two pages. It is not the crime of the century, but you do not do it.

So Ihimaera being caught thieving other people's work is one thing and it is shocking enough. What is curious is the attitude of the university. The Dean of Arts, Jan Crosthwaite, says the university has investigated "and is satisfied there was no deliberate wrong doing".

Excuse me? How do you plagiarise in a way that is not deliberate? How do you plagiarise by accident? If you have plagiarised, presumably you had the other author's work next to you as you typed, knowing you were using another person's sentences. How do you do that unconsciously?

Ah yes! As Lord Patten says that Margaret Thatcher observed with a sigh at her last Cabinet meeting, "It's a funny old world."

Some years back when I faced the biggest crisis of my broadcasting life after wrongheaded and injudicious comments about a former United Nations Secretary General, Ihimaera joined what the late and decent historian, Michael King, called the "university lynch mob' calling for my destruction.

King said to me off air, just before I interviewed him in the middle of the crisis, "You may be pleased to know I declined to join the lynch mob." I thanked him sincerely. He did not have to tell me that. This was shortly before he died so tragically at the peak of his career.

The "lynch mob" came to nothing. The public turned on them. No one wanted high-and-mighty university types butting in. But isn't it funny how the worm turns.

- HERALD ON SUNDAY