29 Apr 2016

Student sentenced for stealing exam papers

5:53 pm on 29 April 2016

An Otago University student who stole exam papers - including her own - has been sentenced to 12 months' supervision, and ordered to pay $6400 in reparations.

There has been a break-in at Otago University.

Otago University Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

The woman, who was given permanent name suppression, had earlier pleaded guilty to burglary for stealing 98 papers in November.

She sought to be discharged without conviction in the Auckland District Court today, but Judge David Sharp said her offending was too serious.

The completed exam scripts were stolen from an office in the university's Clocktower Building on 7 November.

According to the case's summary of facts, the woman, aged in her early 20s, raised the suspicion of an examiner when she went to the toilet three times during an exam.

The examiner found some notes in the toilets and put her papers to one side at the end of the exam.

The woman noticed this, asked if she was in trouble and denied the notes were hers.

That afternoon, she disguised herself and entered the Clocktower Building, where she hid in a cleaning cupboard and under a bed until staff left.

She broke into the office, stole the exam papers and later threw them into the Otago Harbour.

No evidence of cheating, judge says

Police said the woman, who was described in court as a talented student, had taken the papers to cover up cheating in her exam.

That made the offending calculated and premeditated, they said.

Judge Sharp agreed with the woman's lawyer, Stuart Grieve, that there was no evidence that the cheating had occurred.

However, he said there was enough evidence to make one wonder why she would go to the lengths she had.

In asking for a discharge without conviction, Mr Grieve referred to medical reports, the details of which have been suppressed.

The student had since taken steps to address her issues, he said.

Mr Grieve argued the woman's behaviour since the crime had helped lessen its serious nature - she admitted her offence the day after being approached by the police, and had expressed real remorse.

The woman had also agreed to go through restorative justice but Otago University had refused.

Judge Sharp said the university could not be criticised for that decision, saying it would be very difficult to convey the feelings of all the staff and students affected.

Outside court, Otago University vice proctor Andrew Ferguson would not say why the university declined the offer to meet with the offender.

But he said he was satisfied with the sentence.

"We are very pleased that it will finally give some closure to both the university and the staff and students involved in this very serious matter."