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‘Devious’ fraud attempt built on a fake burglary

“Everyone does it” . . . . that’s what a Gisborne woman claims friends told her before she tried to rip off her insurance company for $41,000 by staging a fake household burglary.

A judge described the woman’s behaviour as “devious”. The attempted fraud was detailed, with the woman planting hair for police to discover as evidence and falsely claiming the burglar masturbated over a pile of her daughter’s underwear and pictures.

Christina Mary Mcdonald, 42, appeared for sentence in Gisborne District Court, pleading guilty to a charge of using a document (a falsified insurance claim schedule) to obtain money.

Judge Warren Cathcart sentenced her to 120 hours community work and nine months’ supervision.

But the judge warned Mcdonald the starting point was eight months imprisonment and said he had recorded details of the sentencing at length — “in case you try it again”.

It was only due to Mcdonald’s previous good character and guilty plea that the sentence could be reduced, the judge said.

He accepted this offence appeared to be out of character for Mcdonald, who had no previous convictions.

Nevertheless, it was “devious behaviour”, Judge Cathcart said.

Mcdonald’s attempt to defraud her insurance company was limited to just that — an attempt. Other cases where actual loss was caused often resulted in jail terms of 18 months to two years.

Counsel Leighvi Maynard said Mcdonald felt desperate when she committed the offence.

Judge Cathcart noted the detail Mcdonald invented for her fake story. On October 3 last year, she reported to police a burglary of her house that occurred some time between 4pm the afternoon before and 11.20am that day.

Most of her household contents were stolen, including a large television set, a dining furniture set, lounge suite and refrigerator.

When police came to investigate the scene, she showed them an open bathroom window, which she said had been closed, and pointed to two long strands of black hair, which she claimed must have come from the burglar when that person climbed through the window.

Police sent the hair for DNA analysis.

Mcdonald signed an insurance company schedule of loss, saying $41,860-worth of her household effects were stolen.

She followed up her police complaint in December, signing a detailed victim impact statement “perpetuating the deception”, Judge Cathcart said.

She then invented a new aspect to the story, disclosing for the first time since the alleged incident that the offender had piled up pictures and underwear belonging to her daughter, then masturbated on them.

Mcdonald said she discarded them before police got to her house. She claimed to have told an officer about it but that his response was that police did not do that type of testing.

Her story began to unravel when police received the result of the test on the hair strands, which showed it was hair that had shed naturally and could not have been forcibly removed from someone’s skull as they were climbing through the window.

Police found most of the items Mcdonald reported stolen, during a search of her address in March.

When they questioned Mcdonald, she said friends and associates told her “everyone does it”

She admitted falsifying aspects of her report but said a burglary did occur. It was committed by a meth user related to someone she knew, she said.

She denied planting the hairs on the window but admitted inventing the forensic police officer’s alleged comment as to police ability to test other items.

In submissions about Mcdonald’s otherwise good character, Mr Maynard said she was a solo mother of four, her two youngest children having high needs. Her older children were both talented at sports and performing at a high level.

Her contribution and involvement in the community was extensive. She knew she had let herself and her family down, Mr Maynard said.