Student hostel death: Concerned stepfather emailed uni

Mason Pendrous Photo: Supplied to RNZ by family
Mason Pendrous Photo: Supplied to RNZ by family

The stepfather of a Canterbury University student whose body lay undiscovered at a hall of residence for weeks says he put the lack of contact during that time down to his son's busy student lifestyle.

The body of 19-year-old Mason Pendrous was only found in September when his friend climbed onto the roof at the halls of residence where the teenager lived and looked into his missing friend's room.

Mr Pendrous was in his first year studying e-commerce and was living at Sonoda - a student hall of residence run by Campus Living Villages (CLV).

He was found dead in his room on 23 September, after his family had not heard from him for weeks.

His family say they were still being pursued for bills by CLV, while Mr Pendrous was unaccounted for at Sonoda.

Mason Pendrous, who was found dead by a staff member at the University of Canterbury's Sonoda...
Mason Pendrous, who was found dead by a staff member at the University of Canterbury's Sonoda Campus in Christchurch. Photo: Supplied
His stepfather Anthony Holland told Checkpoint he tried to contact his son many times by text, email and phone, but he put the lack of response down to typical teenager behaviour, until his son's mobile was disconnected.

"I texted a friend of his who was in Auckland, who contacted a friend that was in the same hall. This young man decided something wasn't quite right," Mr Holland said.

"To the best of my knowledge, he climbed up over the roof and around, and realised something was wrong, and contacted security, who entered the room."

Mr Holland said he last spoke to his son on Friday, 19 July, at about 11pm, and Mr Pendrous was in good spirits.

"I'd just gone to bed, and he was a very happy young man at that point, at 11 o'clock on a Friday night as you can imagine."

Mr Pendrous appeared to be enjoying university life, Mr Holland said.

"And every time I spoke to him, there was noise in the background, there were people."

No response

Though Mr Holland tried many times to reach him by text, email and phone, he thought Mr Pendrous was just living a busy student life.

He said he got concerned when Mr Pendrous' mobile phone appeared to have been disconnected.

"It was only really when his phone went from answerphone and calling to 'number not available'. And suddenly it raised a little bit of suspicion in my mind."

Mr Holland emailed Canterbury University about his son in August - one month before Mr Pendrous' body was found.

Mason Pendrous and his stepfather Anthony Holland Photo: Supplied to RNZ by family
Mason Pendrous and his stepfather Anthony Holland Photo: Supplied to RNZ by family

"I thought he'd just got a new phone, like he'd done in the past."

He said neither the University or Campus Living Villages has been able to say when any of its staff saw or spoke to Mason.

"I just feel a bit frustrated that nobody, either at the university or at CLV chose after four or five weeks to chase him up. To find out why he'd not been to lectures, to find out why he'd not eaten.

"They swipe in for food. He didn't swipe in. So at some point, an alarm bell must rise and say, 'hang on, he's not eaten here for two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, whatever it is'."

Mr Holland said he did not know the last time Mr Pendrous had swiped in to eat at Sonoda.

"That information has left CLV and has gone to the police. We still don't have a final date at this stage."

Mr Holland and his partner Teresa did not know how Mr Pendrous died.

"Initial pathology - the report is undetermined at the moment."

The privately-run Sonoda Village for Canterbury University students. Photo: RNZ
The privately-run Sonoda Village for Canterbury University students. Photo: RNZ

They also did not know who the last person was that Mason saw or spoke to.

"The police are still carrying out their investigations. We're being contacted on a daily basis by the police."

It's still not clear how long Mr Pendrous had been dead and undiscovered.

"Initially it was nine weeks, then it became eight weeks now suddenly, it's four weeks."

He said they were waiting on the police report.

"I'm an engineer, so I wait for facts. I build my stuff around facts. And at this stage, we don't know. We genuinely don't know."

'They had a duty of care'

Mr Holland said Campus Living Villages were still pursuing him for bills while Mr Pendrous was unaccounted for at Sonoda.

"He could have actually been dead when they chased for an account to be paid.

"The bills went to Mason, he passed on to me and I got them paid.

"Obviously they sent the bill to Mason, he didn't pass it on. They then chased me looking for payment of a bill which was outstanding. At that point, he was more than likely already deceased."

After the discovery of Mr Pendrous' body, Mr Holland said Campus Living Villages expressed "condolences, sadness, said they would investigate," but since then there had been nothing.

"We haven't spoken to Campus Living Villages since they did their press release. We've not heard anything from them."

He said he was told by CLV group managing director John Schroder that there had been 12 deaths in Campus Living Villages accommodation around the world in the past 13 months.

"That strikes me somewhat, that there's a little bit of irony in this pastoral care that they sold to me.

"My son went missing, nobody checked up on him. They sold me the pastoral care, that they would keep an eye on him as a young man in a new town."

Mr Holland said he had earlier thought the university was responsible for running the accommodation.

"I didn't even realise … that Campus Living Villages were responsible for the accommodation, because when I went on to the website to look for accommodation, I went through the university portal.

"I wasn't even aware it was a separate entity. I thought it was one in the same sitting under the same umbrella. I wasn't even aware that CLV were outsourced by the university."

The university had not told Mr Holland anything about Mr Pendrous' absences from lectures, he said.

"There is currently an independent investigation with Kit Toogood QC… that I find that the terms of reference of the investigation kind of point more towards Mason than the university. It's more about why Mason wasn't there... It's not looking at the university shortfall, in my opinion.

"I did hit them up with a terms of reference that I thought was a little bit more reasonable.

"I'd like them to know why I didn't hear, or a parent doesn't hear for a period of time, that somebody is not going to their lectures.

"I need to know that this isn't going to happen to another dad.

"They had a duty of care. They had a pastoral thing all over their website, which I can't access now.

"Their website is very different now than it was when Mason and I chose a place to stay.

"I expected someone to check up on him. And if he wasn't going to lectures I expected to hear about that."

'A gregarious, good kid'

Mr Holland raised Mr Pendrous since age four, with his mother, who died of breast cancer in 2014.

He told Checkpoint Mr Pendrous was a "gregarious, good kid" who loved rowing and was excited about his university adventure.

"He was a good boy. He was straight up. He told me he was working, he was studying hard, he was finding the hostel food was okay.

"The cause of death might never be known… If we had checked on him earlier, would we have saved him? Maybe not."

Mr Holland said they could not bring Mason's body back to Wellington. He had to be cremated in Christchurch.

"I couldn't even hug my boy. I couldn't even hug him."

He said Mr Pendrous had no issues with mental health.

"We lost his mum five years ago to breast cancer. At that point, he and I just bonded. We bonded before but we were close, we were tight. We talked about all sorts. He was six foot four, he was huge. Built like a brick house.

"He was strong. He had a great smile he had munchkin cheeks when he laughed. He was just a really good all-round boy. Mental health? Absolutely nothing in my heart of heart suggests for one second there were mental health issues at all."

He said he wanted to tell parents of children heading off to university accommodation to "keep in touch with each other regularly".

"If you've got any, any doubts at all about the right place, just check it out. Just be careful to seriously think about where they're going."

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