Police charge quarantine escapers

Four of the escapees were found and detained by 7.50pm on Friday and had been returned to the hotel. The fifth was detained later after a manhunt. Photo: Mark Taylor/Stuff

A woman and three teenagers have been charged this morning under section 11 of the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 following five people absconding from Hamilton's Distinction Hotel on Friday evening because they wanted to attend a funeral.

Police can confirm a 37-year-old woman, together with three youths aged 18, 17 and 16, have been jointly charged with intentionally failing to comply with an order made under section 11 of the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 by leaving a managed isolation facility.

If convicted they could face up to six months imprisonment or a fine not exceeding $4000.

A 12-year-old who also left the facility has not been charged.

"Requests for exemptions are assessed against a range of criteria, including the level of health risk to the community, the ability to manage that risk, and people’s ability and willingness to comply with the conditions of their release," says Air Commodore Darryn Webb. 
"All members of the family that absconded last night are being offered extra support by local iwi.
"Four of the family members have been provided with the opportunity to view the funeral by video link. 
"The area where four of the family were found is a green space and does not require cleaning and disinfection."

The family of five arrived from Brisbane on July 21 and were transferred to Distinction Hotel.

The five people who fled from their managed isolation facility in Hamilton last night had returned to the country to attend the funeral of a close family member, which was due to take place today, but had been initially denied permission to go.

Minister Megan Woods and Air Commodore Darryn Webb have held a media conference to discuss the events surrounding the escape.

The group escaped by climbing over a wall at the hotel, which is the same facility that a man fled from two weeks ago.

"Upon arrival they requested an exemption to spend time with a family member and a recently deceased close relative, and attend the funeral. This request was declined as the health risk was deemed too high at that point in time, noting they had not yet conducted a day 3 test.

"A further request was made yesterday to view the body ahead of the funeral, and a detailed plan was being considered to enable this to happen. This involved extensive work, discussion with iwi, Māori wardens, police, and the funeral home itself."

Webb said the family tested negative for Covid-19 after the results from their first test came back mid to late afternoon yesterday.

"At 6.15pm last night the family were contacted by my team and were advised we were actively considering their application, and doing everything we could to support it. They were made aware that the application process was looking positive, and that they would be given a decision by 8pm last night."

Woods said it appeared that a window was forced open, broken off at security latches, and then a six-foot fence was climbed.

"There is a single point of entry with guards on it, it's very clear that you are not meant to leave this [facility], we absolutely understand that coming home in a time of grief is an incredibly difficult situation for anyone to be in, but New Zealanders all over the country through level 4 had to deal with similar circumstances had where they couldn't gather to leave, where they couldn't see dying loved ones.

"This was a sacrifice we all made to protect each other. We're asking that those returning New Zealanders also have that patience while we work through robust proccessess.. so we can protect New Zealanders and the gains that we've made."

At 6.58pm, a police officer saw them climbing over the perimiter fence. The officer and a NZDF member chased after them.

The woman and three of the children were found at a nearby park and detained just before 8pm last night, while a 17-year-old was found at a house in Waitemata - after making his way to Auckland - early this morning.

Webb said the four who were found in the park appeared to have been there for the majority of the time until they were found and apprehended by the police.

He said it would be up to police if anybody who helped the 17-year-old get to Auckland would be charged.

Speaking about security at the facilities, Webb said there had been "ongoing improvements to all aspects", including the onsite presence of police, additional security staff, and additional further fencing.

"In addition to that we've increased the information passed to arrivals, in terms of verbal briefs and written documentation to make it crystal clear of their obligations.

"These facilities are not prisons, and nor should they be - this was a premeditated and planned attempt to break the law and leave this facility."

The group who absconded will be re-tested along with anyone they came into contact with. Webb said the health risk to people they came in contact with had been determined to be low.

Woods said the exemption process was an "incredibly swift and complicated decision making process, that was put in place to have empathy for the family and what they were going through, but putting in place the protections that were required for New Zealanders".

Woods said there did need to be some personal responsibility from these returning New Zealanders, citizens and residents who are coming back to join the team of 5 million

"And that's to keep their fellow New Zealanders safe, and protect the gains we've made. We enjoy the most liberty, socially and economically in the world - we're asking New Zealanders who are returning to rejoin that team.

"We've had over 30,000 through our facilities through this time, we have had a very small number of people who have chosen to not do the right thing, and the rapid response and follow up contact tracing done to date demonstrates that the risks have been low."

She said a range of technologies are being considered to deal with isolation issues, but something like ankle bracelets would not have made a difference last night.

"We had an NZDF personel who followed this family and kept eyes on, until they could be brought back. We knew that someone had got in a car was travelling to Auckland, because monitoring was happening and we were able to follow that up through our police. So that [ankle bracelets] wouldn't have given us any more information than we had."

The National Party said the Hamilton absconders should pay for the extra costs incurred over their escape.

Police said they had committed considerable resource, including the Eagle helicopter for the search.

National's spokesperson for the Covid-19 border response, Gerry Brownlee, said the escape showed the government had failed to secure the border.

He said the absconders had cost police and quarantine officials' hours and helicopter hours, which they should pay for.

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Posted on 27-07-2020 17:22 | By morepork

Thank you for your kind response and I am glad to read your posts here. Don’t worry about the occasional fit of frustration; most of us are dealing with it lately... :-)

@ Morepork

Posted on 26-07-2020 18:59 | By

You’re right actually. The lengthy legal battle and throwing good money after bad makes your comment right. I was peeved off and a little too hasty with my comment.


Posted on 26-07-2020 13:29 | By morepork

I agree with you in principle, but it is important to recognize that different cultures view the death of family in different ways, and it can have much deeper effect in some cultures more than others. As a diverse nation we need to be aware of this and not just dismiss their feelings as irrelevant and their actions as "stupid". Nevertheless, you are right that something needs to be done with returnees. I favor education and then stiffer penalties, because someone who has been made aware of the full seriousness, is more culpable than someone who hasn’t. Actions DO have consequences, but we have to temper our frustration with understanding, for justice to be effective.


Posted on 26-07-2020 13:19 | By morepork

The total cost of the operation to catch these people will be over $100,000. They can’t pay it and even if they could, they won’t. So, it is simply impractical to say they must pay. The REALITY is that they can’t/won’t. You could spend much more in a long legal battle, throwing good money after bad, and may still not recover the operational costs. There needs to be an effective deterrent (maybe stiff jail sentence) but something more positive would be a Court assessed fine and Community Service, with jail reserved for flagrant and cynical violations. Making them start their quarantine over and pay for the time in it is a good start... Education of returnees is a far better alternative all round.

@ Morepork

Posted on 26-07-2020 08:04 | By

Like usual you raise some great points however, to say that most people couldn’t afford to pay in their life, the reality is that some people could potentially pay with their life . . .if some must pay for their actions then so be it. They knowingly took the action and actions have consequences and actions can have far and long reaching ramifications.


Posted on 25-07-2020 17:50 | By Castreece

When people are extremely ignorant they need to be taught. Some people will not recognise the seriousness of a situation unless they are given serious consequences/ options to face. Jail time is a good option as well as fines for wasted resources. People need to realise their actions have reactions. Risking the health of a country to view a dead relative - seriously, they are too stupid to understand that the price to New Zealand is way too high.

Let's see now...

Posted on 25-07-2020 15:40 | By groutby

...a ’good stiff talking to’ and a wet bus ticket coming their way anytime soon you can bet...


Posted on 25-07-2020 15:35 | By

They knew quarantine was compulsory before leaving oz. Hope they get a heavy fine

Self Entitled Morons

Posted on 25-07-2020 15:10 | By

How dare they come back to our country and treat us and threaten us like that. There should be a REAL CRAPPY facility set aside for escapees only. Serve, starting again, their 14 days, heavy court action then returned to country they returned from with a criminal record against them.


Posted on 25-07-2020 14:54 | By

Oz sending more rubbish back.

Wouldn't you think...

Posted on 25-07-2020 14:18 | By morepork

… that people who had requested exemption and been refused, might need to be watched a bit more...?

People returning...

Posted on 25-07-2020 14:15 | By morepork

… did not go through lockdown here and they don’t understand how seriously we take the war on Covid. We are seeing the results of cavalier attitudes to it overseas, and I believe we need to do much better in educating returnees that there are huge implications if they don’t play by the rules. It is understandable that they want to be at the funeral but so did many others during lockdown, and they had to take one for the team. It is good that most returnees are accepting the quarantine, but the risks associated with breaking it need to be reinforced. It’s no good saying they should pay for the search etc. because most of us don’t have the kind of money to fund police and helicopters. However, there does need to be serious repercussions to emphasise that breaches like this ARE serious. Maybe fines and Community Service...

Get Real

Posted on 25-07-2020 13:40 | By

The Courts must name them and also come down very hard on these law breakers because if they don’t this kind of situation will just multiply. These morons are putting vulnerable New Zealanders lives at risk and as they don’t give a stuff about us I don’t give a stuff about them now.