Couture crime: Cake decorator named in Trelise Cooper burglary case

A cake decorator accused of receiving some of the nearly million dollars’ worth of high-end clothing stolen from famous fashion designer Dame Trelise Cooper can now be named.

Kathy Stephens was unsuccessful in her attempt to convince Justice Matthew Muir to maintain interim name suppression ahead of her trial next year for allegedly receiving stolen property.

The 45-year-old, who has also worked as a private investigator, had asked the High Court last week to overturn an earlier decision by Judge Eddie Paul to revoke the gag order.

In his decision, released to the Herald today, Justice Muir said Stephens “does not persuade me that I should reach a different decision” nor did he consider there was a real risk to her fair trial rights if the public knew her identity.

Stephens’ defence counsel Christina Hallaway had argued if her client was named she and her company, Vanilla Coco, might face the scorn of social media. Stephens has now ceased her cake decorating business.

“While it is almost inevitable that publication will have some negative effect on [Stephens’] cake decorating business and her role as a private investigator (should she be able to resume practice), this cannot justify orders for continued name suppression,” Justice Muir said.

Cooper herself was also strongly opposed to suppression continuing, to help quell the baseless social media suspicions that her staff were involved in an “inside job”.

Cooper’s head office in Auckland’s Newmarket was broken into last October and her entire 2021 spring and summer samples stolen.

A 42-year-old man, whose name suppression is due to expire on Friday if an appeal is not filed, has already admitted to being the thief.

Justice Muir’s decision also briefly outlined the alleged offending.

Between 6pm on October 17 and 8.30am on October 19 a burglary occurred at Cooper’s office and about 2000 items of clothing, valued at about $887,612, were stolen.

Speaking to the Herald after the burglary, Cooper said access was gained into the styling room through a vent in an electrical room.

Stephens’ home was later searched by police on November 17 and “numerous items of Trelise Cooper branded clothing” were found, Justice Muir’s judgment read.

Two jackets were hanging on the bedroom door, a dress in the walk-in wardrobe and another dress inside a washing basket. A suitcase full of Cooper-designed couture was also located in another room, the judgment reads, while a package inside a car in the garage had more clothes.

Hallaway has said there is a clear defence for her client and the case will proceed to trial.

Stephens is one of three people charged with receiving the clothing but Justice Muir accepted she was accused of only having “a small percentage of the total number of dresses stolen”.

Because she is facing criminal charges, Stephens’ licence as a private investigator is also suspended but she has indicated she will seek to continue such work when her legal issues are resolved.

The 42-year-old man responsible for the break-in pleaded guilty to three charges, including burglary and a representative charge of obtaining by deception, and is due to be sentenced in September.

Stephens and a 46-year-old florist, Andrea Nicole Edwards, continue to deny the allegations against them and are due to stand trial together. Edwards, whose name is recorded as Andrea Paul on her charging document, is accused of receiving the bulk of the stolen clothing – about $500,000’s worth.

A fourth person, a 26-year-old woman, was charged in May with allegedly receiving stolen Trelise Cooper-branded clothing.

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