'Bandana burglar' who terrorised Otago students named

'Bandana burglar' who terrorised Otago students named

His name is Nicholas Scott Kerr (33) and he was the masked bandit who burgled 12 Dunedin student flats.

Two judges declined to suppress Kerr's name, making it possible to now reveal his identity.

In 2018, his "missions" began when he entered a student flat on Queen St occupied by 10 females and cut a hole in two of their bedroom curtains.

This was his modus operandi; to enter a flat and either cut holes in the curtains of female occupants or steal items from their homes, or both.

Dressed in dark, loose-fitting clothing, he would wear bandanas to disguise his identity.

After it was done, Kerr logged on to a fictitious Facebook profile as ''Samantha Peek'', advertising the stolen items for sale and bragging about his latest crimes.

From 2018 to 2020, he entered a dozen student flats, stole 51 items, valued at more than $22,000, and cut holes in the curtains of seven women.

The appeal

Counsel Alan de Jager appealed Judge David Robinson's decision to deny name suppression immediately after Kerr's sentencing in December. Kerr was sentenced to three years and two months' imprisonment and ordered to pay $8000 in reparations.

The appeal was on the grounds that the judge had been "plainly wrong" and did not take the extent of Kerr's mental health issues into account.

Justice Gerald Nation, though, dismissed the appeal in a decision released to the Otago Daily Times last week.

"Mr Kerr considered he was robust enough to embark on offending which [his doctor] acknowledged took considerable planning and careful execution for [him] to commit these offences while going undetected for over two years."

He ruled Kerr had enough support in prison to manage any risks of suicide and self-harm.

"It is ... apparent that, over a significant period, [Kerr] was dealing with social abandonment and was understandably distressed at the way he was socially isolated," Justice Nation said.

"Over that time, Corrections was able to keep him safe."

Kerr was also regularly seeing a counsellor and a report in November stated he no longer had plans of self-harm.

"He has now faced and survived the stress of sentencing. He must have come to terms with the reality of that sentence," the judge said.

Justice Nation also addressed Mr de Jager's claim that Kerr's name being published would significantly fracture his family relationships.

The burglar was not known to have close relationships with his relatives or children, and kept in regular contact only with his father, who knew of his offending, the court heard.

Publication of Kerr's crime spree might even help him tell others of his crimes, and increase public awareness, the judge said.

Kerr has three years of his prison sentence left to serve.

It was a just outcome for three of the 13 victims who spoke to the ODT, and vehemently opposed his name suppression.

The victims

"When he chose to burgle our houses and offend those women, he accepted the potential repercussions of his actions," Mike* said.

"Having his name public lets people know to watch out for him."

Mike had $4800 of items stolen from his flat.

"He took everything I had when I was going through a really tough time. He took my money, my possessions, and my feeling of safety in the home."

Sophie* said the whole incident "basically scared the s... out of all of [us]."

She had been outside her Queen St flat when she saw Kerr peering through the gap in one of her flatmates' curtains, which did not close properly.

The woman had just got out of the shower.

Sophie messaged the flatmates' group chat, assuming it was someone's friend, but all she received was confused replies.

She saw Kerr panic as he heard the girls inside freaking out.

When he went to leave, she approached him but he ran off.

Her flatmate did not sleep in her own room for weeks after the incident.

The landlord refused to put in new curtains or a security light.

When asked by police if Kerr should get name suppression , Sophie said "absolutely not".

"No way in hell does he deserve [that]," said Paige*, another victim.

'Bandana burglar' who terrorised Otago students named

"I live in pain every single day ... he preyed on youths in vulnerable situations, with sexual motivations behind many of his break-ins."

Paige was upset that Kerr was not also charged with assault.

After coming home from a night out, she saw a torchlight outside her bedroom window and went to check it out.

"He had either followed me into the flat when I first got home or when I went to the front door to investigate, barged in," she said.

"What I do know is that he smashed my head into a wall while escaping."

She suffered serious concussion and now has daily neck pain.

"Name suppression should be to help protect victims," she said.

In Justice Nation's appeal decision, he noted five victims felt strongly that Kerr's name should not be kept secret.

A 'breeding ground for creeps'

At Kerr's sentencing, Judge Robinson said burglaries of student flats were a common problem.

"You were aware of and relied on the vulnerability of such properties," he said.

The targeting of women "emphasised the vulnerability of female students living in the area".

Students were, as Kerr himself admitted in an interview, "more likely to leave the doors unlocked and less likely to report lost keys".

While Mr de Jager said his client did not have a sexual motive for the crimes, Judge Robinson disagreed.

"This is something I simply cannot accept," he said.

Kerr had cut seven holes in curtains, and while he stole from both genders, he only cut holes in women's curtains.

There was evidence that he scoped out flats before robbing them.

Paige said she had heard unexpected knocks late at night, and that someone had tried to break into the flat above hers."Student flats have low security, and because we all live in one area it becomes a breeding ground for creeps," Sophie said.

There are only security cameras on the main streets of Castle and Leith, she said.

"There needs to be some put on Queen, Dundas, Cosy Dell, Warrender [and] London [Sts] ... as they are all hotspots."

University of Otago proctor Dave Scott said student safety was of the utmost concern for the university.

"We have staff 24/7/365 in the North Dunedin community preventing, deterring, and, on occasion, apprehending offenders."

Campus Watch provides a free service where students can register flats and have them checked when no-one is home.

Mr Scott said patrols and CCTV networks had become a big deterrent for criminals but because of the pandemic and the economic situation the university found itself in, plans to extend the reach of the CCTV networks had been put on hold.

"The best message we can offer students, or anyone else ... is to lock your doors and close your windows when not home.

"Burglary is a serious criminal offence. We encourage students to report instances of burglary to the police," Mr Scott said.

Sophie thought burglaries were a reflection of a wider problem in Dunedin.

"There have been many instances of men turning up to flats pretending to be tradespersons inspecting the flat or asking if any males live in the house," she said.

Campus police officer ConstableJohn Woodhouse said he took every opportunity to talk to students about flat security.

That included encouraging them to engage with their landlords about safety measures for flats.

"I've noticed an increase in messaging on campus about measures such as security lighting in and around the student quarter, which is a positive step in preventing crime," Const Woodhouse said.

Sophie stressed students, especially women, should report anything unusual that they saw, even if they thought it was insignificant.

"If I didn't report this guy then he wouldn't be in jail," she said.

Paige believed it was critical that flat safety was improved in the student sector.

"I experienced multiple break-ins in 2021 at another flat because of little security and the fear and anxiety break-ins cause is debilitating.

"But there is also a problem in students believing these things wouldn't happen to them," Paige said.

"The sad thing is men like this guy target students. Even with improved safety, these men watch students and figure out their routines to find the best time to strike".

*Names have been changed to protect victims' identities.

Timeline of student flat burglaries

July 2018-Nov 2020: Nicholas Kerr steals more than $22,000 from 12 student flats, and cuts seven holes in female occupants' curtains.

Aug 2020: Steven Morgan enters Leith St student flats and makes off with nearly $2000 of electronics.

Oct 2020: Mifisosa Tapusoa targets three flats in Castle St and Forth St, entering through unlocked windows and stealing $5000 of items and a car.

Dec 2020: Cheylan Dawson and 11 friends take almost $11,000 of property from unsecured Dundas St house.

Jan 2021: Teremoana Taokia and Wayne Bennett embark on drunken break-ins in student sector; both later jailed for 15 months.

Mar 2021: Primo Thompson ends a spree of 13 burglaries by climbing into a North Dunedin flat through a window and stealing items while flatmates sleep.

Constable John Woodhouse's top tips

* Lock your doors and windows.

* Keep valuables out of sight.

* Record serial numbers of expensive electronic items and photograph them.

* Install an alarm system and get sensor lights fitted.

* Keep garden sheds and garages locked when not in use.

* Keep hedges or plants around doors and windows well-trimmed (do not give the burglar a place to hide).

Call 111 if you see anything suspicious and need police urgently, or call the non-emergency number 105.