Woman who escaped quarantine hotel given deferred sentence

A woman who scaled a five-foot wall to escape a Covid-19 quarantine hotel has been given a deferred sentence.

Suzanne Marie Derrett (43) appeared in the Dunedin District Court this morning after police suggested a week ago that she may be eligible for diversion.

However, defence counsel Sarah Saunderson-Warner said that had been declined by the head of prosecutions in Wellington.

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

He sentenced the woman to a six-month suspended sentence.

Derrett previously 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.

The defendant 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 Auckland’s Pullman Hotel before being found a couple of blocks away less than two hours later in Anzac Ave.

Ms 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 issues, 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 five-foot brick wall and surrounded by a hedge.

She spent 20min 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.

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

However, he was satisfied the escape was “entirely” down to her mental-health problems and the fact they were untreated.

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

The court previously heard Derrett had since finished her isolation period and 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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