Woman branded ‘public menace’ gets six months jail

July 29, 2014 | By More

Court House-Sept-2013-05A woman publicly branded a “menace” and banned from just about everywhere has now been jailed for six months and told to stay away from children.

Christchurch District Court Judge Jane Farish told 58-year-old Margaret Mabel Dodds, 58: “This was very frightening for the children. You need to stay away from the children.”

Dodds will continue seeing the prison psychiatrist while she serves the remaining six weeks of her sentence before being released back to the Seager Clinic at Princess Margaret Hospital where she has been a resident.

She has been held about six weeks in custody on remand after pleading not guilty to charges after various arrests early this year, but police reduced one charge today and she pleaded guilty to the rest.

Dodds admitted an assault charge which had previously been a charge of assaulting a child, a charge of disorderly behaviour that was likely to cause violence, and two charges of being unlawfully on properties.

Defence counsel Paul Johnson said Dodds had been publicly “branded by all and sundry and trespassed from everywhere, and banned from public transport”. He told Judge Farish: “She has been in custody for six weeks. While it’s kept the community safe in its ideals, it’s not ideal for her.”

Dodds has been diagnosed as having borderline personality disorder and Mr Johnson said that meant she fell through the cracks. She did not come under the Mental Health Act. Although she lives at the clinic, the health authorities cannot provide any oversight and she is able to go out as she wishes.

She has been banned from parks, recreation centres, shopping malls, some streets, public transport, and schools. Notices about her have appeared on social media websites, and on noticeboards in school staffrooms.

On the afternoon of March 31, Dodds met a 10-year-old girl on a Cashmere walkway as she rode her scooter home from school with her friend. The girl recognised Dodds from the publicity.

Dodds stepped from side to side on the pathway, blocking the girl.

Police prosecutor Stewart Sluis said: “Dodds placed her hands on the victim’s shoulders and her stomach has pressed up against the victim’s body pinning her against a tree. The victim told the defendant that she had to to to ballet. The defendant asked her to show her some ballet moves and released the victim so this could be done.”

As soon as Dodds let the girl go, the 10-year-old scooted off.

Dodds told the police she waited near the pathway to speak to children.

On June 5, Dodds went to the Main North Road and blocked the path of a boy walking home from school. She stepped sideways to block him, and asked if he wanted a lolly, and offered to walk him home.

The boy ran away, but doubled back when he saw she had accosted two of his friends. He wanted to see if his friends – two brothers – were safe. She was blocking their path, but all three boys then ran away and told their parents.

Mr Sluis said: “The three boys were frightened by the defendant’s approach and their parents and teachers were extremely alarmed.”

Dodds said she only wanted to speak to the boys and “that is not illegal”. There was no law that said Margaret Dodds cannot talk to children, she told police.

Judge Farish said Dodds suffered from a borderline personality disorder which took a long time to “work through the issues”. Discussions with the prison psychiatrist while in custody may have found a treatment programme she could attend.

She described Dodds’ behaviour as “nuisance offending” which had led to her being trespassed from places where she might have been able to go for a walk.

A psychiatric nurse at court told the judge that the goal was for Dodds eventually to be released from the clinic but “it’s not something that’s going to happen in the imminent future”.

Judge Farish jailed Dodds for six months with post-release conditions for her to undertake counselling or treatment as recommended by her probation officer or the departmental psychiatrist.

She said that if Dodds was discharged from the clinic, the difficulty was that there was actually nowhere for her to go within the community.

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