A student who tampered with a manhole inside the Dunedin Courthouse has been jailed for more than two years.

Christopher John Hobbs, 30, was originally charged with setting a trap with reckless disregard for the safety of others, which carries a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment.

That was amended down to a criminal nuisance charge (one-year maximum) before the defendant finally pleaded guilty to doing an act endangering safety (three-month maximum).

It was the most unusual of the 11 charges for which Hobbs was sentenced at the Dunedin District Court yesterday, Judge Peter Rollo said, but not the most serious.

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The defendant came to Dunedin from Auckland to study physics at the University of Otago.

But he brought with him eight criminal charges as he attempted to make his "fresh start", counsel Andrew Dawson said.

Within days of his arrival on March 2, Hobbs was in Castle St where he noticed two university vans in a loading bay.

He got into one of the Toyota Hiace vehicles, found the keys inside and drove off.

Hobbs was disqualified from driving at the time, the court heard.

His ignominious start to life down south became a shade darker when he appeared in court on March 12.

Hobbs was asked to leave a courtroom by a security guard because of his unruly behaviour.

He was then asked to leave the building when they spotted him tampering with a fire exit, yet he remained on the premises.

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After failing to lift a floor panel outside the courtroom, he walked towards the toilets.

There he removed a manhole cover and left it ajar.

Hobbs was spotted committing the act on CCTV footage, it is understood.

Counsel Andrew Dawson said his client's problems could be traced back to his late teens when was diagnosed with cancer and prescribed strong medication.

Hobbs, he said, became addicted to the drugs and his mental health also suffered as he spent the next decade trying to control the spiral.

Various car thefts and burglaries from Auckland were a result of the defendant sleeping rough and simply needing shelter, Dawson said.

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Judge Rollo was impressed by a letter Hobbs penned for the court.

In it the man said he wished to return to university after serving his prison sentence.

Hobbs was jailed for 25 months, banned from driving for nine months and ordered to pay $844 reparation.