Sports star named but escapes conviction
A Manawatu woman has been discharged without conviction after defrauding StudyLink, with her lawyer successfully arguing a conviction would severely hamper her chances at representing New Zealand in sport.
But she has lost her application for permanent name suppression, with a judge saying there was not enough evidence to prove she would suffer extreme hardship.
Sheridan Te Aorere Bignall cried in the dock in the Palmerston North District Court yesterday when she was granted a discharge without conviction on a charge of obtaining by deception.
Bignall, a midcourter in netball, is a former New Zealand secondary schools' player and New Zealand under-21 squad member, who has also represented Central at under-23 level.
In February last year, she and a StudyLink staff member worked together to get her signed up to a student allowance to which she was not entitled.
That staff member came up with the way she could get the money illegally and assisted her in doing so.
She managed to get $891 in allowance money she was not entitled to before her fraud was discovered.
The StudyLink employee has also been charged in relation to the offence, but left the country soon after being charged and is yet to return.
Defence lawyer Peter Coles said statements provided by Bignall's sports coaches - she also plays touch rugby - showed there was a realistic chance she could be asked to represent New Zealand overseas in the future.
A dishonesty conviction was likely to have made it difficult to get into countries where New Zealand teams played often, he said.
"She continues to play netball at a very high level with the ambition of being selected for New Zealand, which is not a fanciful one."
Bignall had been truly remorseful, going as far as beginning to pay back the money before being charged, Coles said.
Judge Gregory Ross said Bignall initially got in touch with StudyLink for legitimate purposes before the employee suggested illegal ways to get the allowance.
"You have been lured into offending."
That, combined with her previous good character, achievement in various areas of life, and the fact a conviction would make representing her country overseas extremely difficult, were relevant reasons to be discharged without conviction, he said.
However, there was not sufficient grounds to give her permanent name suppression.
The judge said laws around suppression specifically dealt with the fact it could not be given purely because someone was a celebrity.