The stepfather of a Canterbury University student whose body lay undiscovered at a residence hall for weeks says he puts up a lack of contact during time down to his son's busy student lifestyle.
The body of 19-year-old Mason Pendrous was only found in September when his friend climbed onto the roof of the residence hall where the teenager lived and looked into his missing friend's room.
Pendrous was in his first year studying e-commerce and was living at Sonoda – a student residence hall run by Campus Living Villages (CLV).
He was found dead in his room on September 23, after his family had not heard from him for weeks.
His family say they were still pursuing CLV bills, while Pendrous was unaccounted for at Sonoda.
His stepfather told Anthony Holland Checkpoint he tried to contact his son many times by text, email and phone, but he put the lack of response down to typical teenager behavior until his son's mobile was disconnected.
"I texted a friend of mine who was in Auckland, who contacted a friend who was in the same hall. This young man decided something wasn't quite right," Holland said.
"To the best of my knowledge, he climbed over the roof and around, and realized something was wrong, and contacted security personnel who entered the room."
Holland said he last spoke to his son on Friday, July 19, at about 11pm, and Pendrous was in good spirits.
"I'd just gone to bed, and he was a very happy young man at that point, at 11 o'clock on a Friday night as you can imagine."
Pendrous appeared to enjoy university life, Holland said.
"And every time I talked to him, there was noise in the background, there were people."
Although Holland tried many times to reach him by text, email and phone, he thought Pendrous was just living a busy student life.
He said he was concerned when Pendrous' mobile phone appeared to have been disconnected.
"It was only really when his phone went from answerphone and calling to 'number not available'. And suddenly it raised a little bit of suspense in my mind."
Holland emailed Canterbury University about his son in August – a month before Pendrous' body was found.
"I thought he'd just got a new phone, like he'd done in the past."
He said neither the university or Campus Living Villages was able to say when any of its staff saw or spoke to Mason.
"I just feel a little frustrated that nobody, either at university or at CLV, chose to chase him after four or five weeks. To find out why he hadn't been to the lectures, to find out why he hadn't eaten.
"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.' "
Holland said he did not know the last time Pendrous had swiped in to eat at Sonoda.
"That information has left the CLV and has gone to the police. We still have no final date at this stage."
Holland and his partner, Teresa, did not know how Pendrous died.
"Initial pathology – the report is undetermined at the moment."
They also didn't know who the last person Mason saw or talked to.
"The police are still carrying out their investigations. We are being contacted on a daily basis by the police."
It is still unclear how long Pendrous had been dead and undiscovered.
"Initially it was nine weeks, then it became eight weeks now suddenly, it's four weeks."
He said they were waiting for the police report.
"I'm an engineer, so I'm waiting for the facts. I build my stuff around the facts. And at this stage, we don't know. We genuinely don't know."
'THEY HAD A DUTY OF CARE'
Holland said Campus Living Villages was still pursuing him for bills while Pendrous was unaccounted for at Sonoda.
"He could have actually been dead when they chased for an account to be paid.
"The bills went to Mason, he passed on to me and I got them paid.
"Obviously they sent the bill to Mason, he didn't pass it on. They then chased me looking for a bill that was outstanding. At that point, he was more than likely already deceased."
After the discovery of Pendrous' body, Holland said Campus Living Villages expressed "condolences, sadness, said they would investigate," but since then there has been nothing.
"We haven't spoken to Campus Living Villages since they released their press release. We haven't heard anything from them."
He said he was told by CLV group managing director John Schroder that there had been 12 deaths at Campus Living Villages accommodation around the world in the past 13 months.
"That strikes me a little bit, that there's a bit of irony in this pastoral care that they sold to me.
"My son went missing, nobody checked on him. They sold me the pastoral care that they would keep an eye on as a young man in a new town."
Holland said he had previously thought the university was responsible for running the accommodation.
"I didn't even realize … that Campus Living Villages was responsible for the accommodation, because when I went to the website to look for accommodation, I went through the university portal.
"I didn't even know it was a separate entity. I thought it was one sitting under the same umbrella. I wasn't even aware that CLV was being outsourced by the university."
The university had not told Holland anything about Pendrous' absences from lectures, he said.
"There is currently an independent investigation with Kit Toogood QC … that I find that the terms of reference of the investigation kind of point more to Mason than the university. It's more about why Mason wasn't there … It's not looking at the university shortfall, in my opinion.
"I did hit them up with some terms of reference that I thought were a little more reasonable.
"I'd like to know why I didn't hear, or a parent didn't hear for some time, that somebody wasn't going to their lectures.
"I need to know that this is not going to happen to another dad.
"They had a duty of care. They had a pastoral thing all over their website, which I can't access now.
"Their website is very different now than it was when Mason and I chose a place to stay.
"I expected someone to check on him. And if he wasn't going to lectures I expected to hear about that."
'A GREGARIOUS, GOOD KID'
Holland raised Pendrous since he was four, with his mother, who died of breast cancer in 2014.
He told Checkpoint Pendrous was a "gregarious, good kid" who loved rowing and was excited about his university adventure.
"He was a good boy. He was straight up. He told me he was working, he was studying hard, he was finding the food host was okay.
"The cause of death might never be known … If we had checked on him earlier, would we have saved him? Maybe not."
Holland said they could not bring Mason's body back to Wellington. He had to be cremated in Christchurch.
"I couldn't even hug my boy. I couldn't even hug him."
He said Pendrous had no issues with mental health.
"We lost his mum five years ago to breast cancer. At that point, he and I just bonded. We bonded before but we were close, we were tight. We talked about all sorts. He was six foot four, he was huge. Built like a brick house.
"He was strong. He had a great smile he had munchkin cheeks when he laughed. He was just a really good all-round boy. Mental health? Absolutely nothing in my heart to suggest for a second there were mental health issues at all. "
He said he wanted to tell parents of children heading off to university accommodation to "keep in touch with each other regularly".
"If you've got any, any doubts at all about the right place, just check it out. Just be careful to think seriously about where they're going."