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New Zealand hall of residence 'pursued family for cash' as student lay dead for weeks

Stepfather of Mason Pendrous says accommodation provider at Canterbury University sold him idea of pastoral care

New Zealand hall of residence 'pursued family for cash' as student lay dead for weeks
The body of Mason Pendrous lay undiscovered in his room at Canterbury University in Christchurch, New Zealand, for weeks after he died. Photograph: Mark Baker/AP

A hall of residence where a young student lay dead for a month hounded his family for payment despite their son being unaccounted for and having passed away in his dorm room.

The body of 19-year-old Mason Pendrous of Canterbury University was discovered on 23 September after a fellow resident climbed on top of the roof to look inside Pendrous’s room, and then alerted security.

Pendrous’s stepfather Anthony Holland told RNZ that Campus Living Villages who ran the Sonoda student hall in Christchurch where his stepson had a single room pursued the family for unpaid bills, despite the business student being unaccounted for and deceased in his room.

Holland said the group managing director of Campus Living Villages, John Schroder, told him there had been 12 deaths in CLV accommodation around the world in the past 13 months.

“That strikes me somewhat, that there’s a little bit of irony in this pastoral care that they sold to me,” Holland said.

“My son went missing, nobody checked up on him. They sold me the pastoral care, that they would keep an eye on him as a young man in a new town.”

Canterbury University has launched an independent investigation into the death of Pendrous, who was from Wellington. It will look at how his first absence was missed from classes, dining halls and tutorials for so long, as well as by adult staff supervising students at Sonoda.

Holland said he thought his stepson was not answering his calls or texts because he was a busy, happy student, and he only grew suspicious when he phoned Pendrous and discovered the mobile had been disconnected.

Holland says he remains angry and frustrated at the university and the Sonoda residence for not taking more interest in his stepson’s class attendance and welfare.

According to the Christchurch Press welfare concerns about Pendrous were noted by Sonoda staff as early as May, three full months before he died. It is unclear whether these welfare concerns were acted on.

“I just feel a bit frustrated that nobody, either at the university or at CLV chose after four or five weeks to chase him up. To find out why he’d not been to lectures, to find out why he’d not eaten,” Holland told RNZs Checkpoint programme.

“They swipe in for food. He didn’t swipe in. So at some point, an alarm bell must rise and say, ‘hang on, he’s not eaten here for two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, whatever it is’.”

New Zealand police are conducting an investigation into the death of Pendrous and his stepfather told Checkpoint it has still not been determined how he died.

The hall of residence where Pendrous died will no longer be used to house first-year university students from 2020.

Former high court judge, Kit Toogood QC, has been hired to oversee the independent investigation into the death, and will investigate whether welfare cocnerns were raised about Pendrous to the university prior to his death, if oversight and pastroal care at Sonoda were adequate, and how his absence from classes and hall meals went unoticed for so long.

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