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University of Otago proctor Dave Scott has acknowledged he was wrong to enter a flat while no-one was home and confiscate bongs, but says he doesn't think his actions make him a criminal.
In a press conference this afternoon, Mr Scott said with the "benefit of hindsight" he was wrong to go into the flat three weeks ago and would not make the same mistake again.
"I'm a human and I have made an error of judgement on this occasion [and] I've apologised to the flat in question this afternoon for what I did.
"I have made a mistake here and I am willing to learn from it."
Asked if he broke the law, he said he was not above scrutiny and acknowledged he was wrong.
"Does that make me a criminal? I don't believe so.
"This was a situation that could have been dealt with differently."
Vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne said the university still had "full confidence" in Mr Scott, saying he had assured her he would not repeat the mistake.
"I have discussed the proctor's actions with him and he agrees this will not happen again.
"In my experience of the proctor on so many occasions he always has the students' best interests at heart, and has worked extremely hard to ensure students are treated fairly while they are here."
She added the university remained a place where students could "spread their wings in a safe and supportive environment".
"In doing that, we recognise the fundamental importance of respecting students' rights."
Meanwhile a petition on Change.org, created by OUSA recreation officer Josh Smythe, included a call for Mr Scott to resign and a demand for "an official condemnation of his methods from the University of Otago''.
By mid-morning, the petition had attracted nearly 400 signatures.
Mr Smythe, writing online, said Mr Scott had "abused his position of power'', committed "potentially illegal acts'' and "broken the trust of this community''.
"The proctor should be actively cultivating positive relationships with the communities he is supposedly stewarding, as opposed to engaging in intimidation and antagonistic power plays.''
This morning Abe Gray, a former student politician, cannabis activist and the curator of the Whakamana Cannabis Museum, said he had been offered a $25,000 grant from an anonymous donor to help pay for a legal fighting fund.
The money could pay for a private prosecution aimed at Mr Scott or the university itself, but the exact course of action was still being considered, Mr Gray said.
The proctor's "vigilante'' behaviour was well outside the scope of his role, and Mr Gray had offered to replace the bongs.
- Was your flat one of the ones that was searched by the proctor? Get in touch with us, anonymously if you prefer, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The university stands by Mr Scott's decision, but said the action would be unlikely to be repeated.
The incident, which happened about three weeks ago, was reported in student magazine Critic Te Arohi yesterday.
In a statement, the university said Mr Scott, a former Dunedin police senior sergeant, was in the Leith St North area delivering letters warning students of the dangers of initiations when he saw several bongs left out in plain sight and confiscated them.
A university spokeswoman said neither the proctor nor the university claimed a right to search private premises.
''What was done here was unusual and unlikely to be repeated.''
Auckland University of Technology senior lecturer in criminal law Khylee Quince said she did not think the events outlined in Critic would amount to burglary - because Mr Scott did not have the intent to commit an offence when he went into the building - but she thought the proctor could potentially be responsible for both theft and unlawfully being in a building.
University of Victoria public law lecturer Eddie Clark said there appeared to be no legal justification for the proctor going on to the property.
''There's nothing I'm aware of that makes it lawful.''
Mr Scott judged the occupants of the flat would rather deal with him informally than have the police search the flat, so he decided to enter the flat and take the items.
The flatmates were told of what happened and the matter was resolved in a way the university was confident was to their advantage.
The bongs, which the flatmates acknowledged had been used for consuming illegal drugs, were destroyed.
''The proctor is often called on to make judgements as to how to manage difficult situations and in doing that he gives careful thought to the interests of students involved.''
Southern District police area prevention manager Will Black said police were ''aware of an incident, though we have received no complaint at this time''.
''Anyone with concerns should get in touch with their local police.''
When asked whether the circumstances described would amount to burglary, a police spokeswoman said complaints were dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
OUSA recreation officer Josh Smythe claimed on four separate occasions yesterday people contacted him claiming the proctor had wandered into their houses.
He said students would be holding a protest about it on Friday at 1pm.
Due to the situation being a ''grey area'', Mr Smythe did not believe any of the students had made official complaints.
Critic ran a story on a second flat of students yesterday afternoon, who claimed that the proctor visited them in June when no-one was home, to pick up rubbish.
They said while he was there, he took two bongs, which had been sitting in the lounge, around the back of the flat.
The university hit national and international headlines in May when hundreds of copies of Critic's ''menstruation issue'' - featuring a naked woman menstruating on the cover - went missing from stands around the university campus overnight.
They were removed by a member of Campus Watch, and the university later described the person's actions as a mistake.
Otago University Students' Association president Caitlin Barlow-Groome told RNZ entering flats without permission was unacceptable and the university had overstepped the line.
- additional reporting by Chris Morris