Diversion offered if damage paid for

Protesters barricaded themselves inside the University of Otago commerce building on August 1...
Protesters barricaded themselves inside the University of Otago commerce building on August 1 before peppering walls with slogans. Photo: supplied
Three protesters who damaged a University of Otago building will avoid a conviction if they can each stump up nearly $5000.

Carl Asoka Naus, 33, Jowan Caleb Nute, 21, and Liam Allister Scaife, 19, appeared in the Dunedin District Court yesterday where they each admitted wilful damage.

The acceptance came after the charge was downgraded from one which carried a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment to one of three months.

The court heard the defendants had been offered police diversion, a scheme which allows predominantly young or first-time offenders to make amends for their crimes and avoid a mark on their criminal record.

The trio were among a group of students and non-students who entered the university’s commerce building on the morning of August 1.

Court documents detailed how they barricaded themselves inside by screwing wooden battens into two sets of fire doors.

"This resulted in compromising their function," a police summary said.

The building was empty at the time because it was being "repurposed".

The court heard how the defendants painted the walls with slogans protesting against the university cuts, an issue which has drawn intense scrutiny in recent months.

University acting vice-chancellor Prof Helen Nicholson said the total cost of the damage was $14,941.

She acknowledged the long tradition of peaceful protest at the institution but said it was important any views were expressed within the bounds of the law.

"There is no place for vandalism or disorderly actions on campus. This is particularly the case when the safety of other people on our campus is put at risk," she said.

Protect Otago Action Group spokesperson Natasha Hope-Johnstone took aim at the university’s decision to involve police.

"This could have been handled within the university community, but this would have required negotiation, dialogue and good faith, which apparently the university leadership could not find in its senior managers," she said.

Those sentiments were echoed by Tertiary Education Union Otago co-branch president Brandon Johnstone, who called the prosecution "a sad state of affairs".

"Cuts to our vibrant public education whānau across the motu is the real scandal that we should be training our attention on," he said.

The case will next come before the court in October, but if the men have completed diversion the charges may be withdrawn administratively.