4 Aug 2020

Woman given suspended sentence for escaping Covid-19 isolation

11:16 am on 4 August 2020

The judge sentencing a woman who escaped managed isolation has taken aim at police and managed isolation facilities during his sentencing remarks.

Suzanne Derrett, centre, leaves court with supporters.

(File photo) Suzanne Derrett, centre, leaving an earlier court appearance with supporters. Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

Suzanne Marie Derrett was given a six-month suspended sentence when she appeared at Dunedin District Court.

The 43-year-old fled from the Pullman Hotel in Auckland on 4 July, seven days before her required isolation period ended.

She had returned from Brisbane on 27 June and and was taken to the Pullman Hotel, where she was to remain for a fortnight.

A week later she jumped a brick wall in the hotel's courtyard and ran away.

On that night she was showing signs of emotional distress, "yelling gibberish" and talking to a wall, her lawyer said.

She was found less than two hours later in central Auckland and arrested.

She pleaded guilty last week and the police weighed up whether to grant diversion.

However, Police National Headquarters decided against it.

The court heard Derrett had a history of depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

She was effectively homeless for six months before she left Australia in late June.

Judge Kevin Phillips accepted her behaviour was due entirely to her mental health difficulties.

He gave Derrett a suspended sentence, which meant if she offended again in the next six months she would be recalled to be sentenced.

Judge Phillips questioned why she was not eligible for diversion given she had no prior history with the law.

"Why wasn't she granted diversion?" he asked the police prosecutor. "Because it's too hard and so it's been passed on to the court?"

The police prosecutor explained it was considered by the police's head of prosecutions in Wellington and "various other legal people" and they decided against granting diversion.

"So in other words it's too hard for us, so we'll let the court do it," Judge Phillips responded.

While acknowledging the distress Derrett had caused the public by escaping managed isolation, in reality she was no real threat and "it was entirely as a result of your mental health difficulties which existed before you left Australia", he said.

He described the lack of any mental health assessment and additional care for those suffering from such issues in managed isolation as "a major failing".

A summary of facts said Derrett fled the Pullman Hotel a week after arriving at the facility by jumping a five-foot tall brick wall and a hedge of a similar height.

On the evening of 4 July she entered the outdoor courtyard of the hotel.

"The defendant spent approximately 20 minutes in this area," the summary said.

"The defendant displayed signs of emotional distress evidenced by the fact she yelled and talked to herself.

"The defendant left the area around 5.50pm and came inside for a period before she went back out into the outdoor courtyard area again around 5.59pm.

"The defendant yelled at site staff through the glass window for a period before she faced the north-west corner of the outdoor courtyard area quietly.

"Around 6.07pm the defendant jumped over the brick wall, left the quarantine area and ran away."

About 8pm she approached police officers in Anzac Avenue, in the Auckland CBD area, and was arrested.

Failing to comply with orders made under the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act can result in imprisonment or a fine.

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