Deferred sentence for mental health-driven isolation escape

A judge has urged officials to screen those in quarantine facilities for mental health problems after a woman escaped during her stay.

Suzanne Marie Derrett (43) appeared in the Dunedin District Court yesterday where Judge Kevin Phillips gave her a six-month deferred sentence.

Last week, Derrett pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to comply with a Covid-19 order — a charge which carries a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment — and the matter was adjourned for police to consider diversion.

Prosecutor Sergeant Chris George told the court that had been declined by the head of prosecutions in Wellington.

Judge Phillips said it sounded as though the case had been put in the "too-hard basket".

He was satisfied the escape was "entirely" down to Derrett’s mental health problems and the fact that they were untreated while she stayed at Auckland’s Pullman Hotel.

The judge said he hoped it prompted officials to examine people in quarantine to avoid further incidents.

However, he also stressed the fear Derrett’s break-out caused.

"People escaping from isolation facilities facilities cause a major concern within the community," Judge Phillips said.

Derrett arrived from Brisbane on June 27 and returned a negative Covid-19 test three days later.

On July 4 — a week before she was due to leave — she absconded from the hotel before being found less than two hours later a couple of blocks away in Anzac Ave.

Counsel Sarah Saunderson-Warner explained her client found "nature calms her when she’s in a difficult situation".

The defendant, the court heard, had been homeless for six months while living in Australia and suffered an exacerbation in her anxiety and depression.

Derrett’s family were "upset" about her circumstances and returned her to New Zealand so they could lend their support.

The defendant, who had a history of substance abuse, was now being supported by mental health services, Ms Saunderson-Warner said.

Court documents revealed Derrett entered an outdoor courtyard of the hotel, designated as a smoking area, fenced by a 1.5m brick wall and surrounded by a hedge.

She spent 20 minutes in the area and "displayed signs of emotional distress", yelling and talking to herself.

The defendant went back inside the hotel but was back outside again nine minutes later.

Derrett shouted at staff through a window, and while on-site staff sought assistance, she clambered over the wall and bolted.

The court previously heard Derrett had since finished her isolation period and had been tested twice for Covid-19, with negative results.

Every person who arrives in New Zealand must be isolated from other people for a minimum period of 14 days.

They must also test negative for Covid-19 before they can go into the community.

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