A group of Nelson "ghostbusters" are fighting burglary charges after they were busted by police in Nelson's old - and, some say, haunted - psychiatric hospital.
They told police they were hoping to scare themselves by observing signs of "the paranormal", but it was a police dog waiting for them that frightened them the most.
The group of five were caught in an abandoned building at Stoke's former Ngawhatu Hospital at 1am on March 30.
Police say they entered the building through a broken window.
The Ngawhatu Valley in Stoke was the site of an orphanage industrial school - St Mary's - and later the Ngawhatu Psychiatric Hospital, which operated from 1922 to 2000.
Rumours the place is haunted are part of Nelson folklore.
Visitors to the Nelson Mail Facebook page commented yesterday the place was "eerie", "spooky" and had an energy "full of old echoes". A few even reported seeing figures up there, including a former worker who said she saw "an old lady in a white nightdress float across the room in a geriatric villa".
Others said they had never experienced anything strange up the valley and it was all in people's minds.
A few former in-patients of Nelson's Ngawhatu psychiatric hospital at the facility in the 1960s and 1970s spoke of harrowing treatment in a report on New Zealand's psychiatric institutions. The Nelson complainants said they were victims of sexual and physical abuse and were subjected to electric shock therapy as punishment.
Four men were caught inside the former hospital by police last month, prompting Judge Tony Zohrab to label them "ghostbusters" during their appearance in the Nelson District Court this week.
Three pleaded not guilty to unlawfully being in a building, indicating through their lawyers they would argue they were not in the building to steal anything or cause damage.
Shane Matthew Casbolt, 22, Shaun Gregory Garing, 37, and Christopher Eric Cooper, 19, were remanded on bail to dates in April and May.
A fourth man, Jacob Misiata Head, admitted the charge and was sentenced to 40 hours of community work.
Outside of court Casbolt told the Nelson Mail he had been intrigued by the history of Ngawhatu area since he was a child.
Having been up to the site during the day, he was keen to check out the place at night as it was "a bit spookier and things might happen".
He said the group was only doing what plenty of other teenagers in Nelson had done.
"It's kind just of the place on a Friday, Saturday night for teenagers to go and get a bit of a scare. We were just dumb enough to get caught by police."
Before his early morning visit Casbolt made a YouTube clip looking at the site and sent it to current affairs TV show 60 Minutes asking it to do a story on Ngawhatu.
He wanted to raise awareness of the history of the place and what had gone on there when it was an orphanage and psychiatric hospital.
"It was a very uneasy place. I've always been fascinated [by it]."
On the night they were arrested, Mr Casbolt said the group didn't get a chance to see or feel anything of the supernatural kind. After they had been there five minutes, the police arrived.
"Probably the biggest thing that scared us was the big black police dog waiting for us at the bottom of the stairs," he said.
He accepted they shouldn't have been there and should have got permission.
"I just want to get that story out there about what actually happened at Ngawhatu as, one day, those buildings aren't going to be there and just personally I feel it's going to be a bit of Nelson's history lost."
Police said they had caught another group at the former hospital "looking for ghosts" last month but it was not a regular problem.
In 2007 the Nelson Mail reported that a man who sat drinking with friends at the hospital waiting for ghosts to appear was convicted for unlawfully being in a building. In 2004 some of the disused buildings were burnt down in suspicious circumstances.
The facility's swimming pool is still used by the community after it successfully rallied to stop the pool, built for staff and patients at the hospital, from being closed.
- © Fairfax NZ News