Ministry prosecuted over Work and Income killings

ASHBURTON OFFICE: The Work and Income building in Ashburton where two workers were shot dead.

ASHBURTON OFFICE: The Work and Income building in Ashburton where two workers were shot dead.

The mother of a woman killed in Ashburton's Work and Income shooting is disappointed her daughter's employer has been charged over the incident, saying "nobody could foresee what was going to happen that day".

WorkSafe NZ today laid a charge against the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) after the shooting on September 1 last year.

Russell John Tully, 48, was charged with the murders of Peg Noble and Susan Leigh Cleveland, and seriously wounding Lindy Curtis, at their Cass St office.

ACCUSED: Russell John Tully, 48, is accused of murdering two Ashburton women in the town's Work and Income office, and ...

ACCUSED: Russell John Tully, 48, is accused of murdering two Ashburton women in the town's Work and Income office, and attempting to kill a third.

Another staff member, Kim Adams, was shot at as she ran out the back door.

Tully is set to stand trial in May.

WorkSafe NZ alleges the MSD failed to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employees while at work.

The charge, under section 6 of the Health and Safety in Employment Act, was laid in the Wellington District Court.

Prime Minister John Key believed it was the fourth time WorkSafe had taken legal action against the government over fatal incidents. 

"They're independent, they have the authority to do that," Key said. 

"The government and certainly the Ministry of Social Development will get all the best legal advice and determine how it wants to plead the case."

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Cleveland's mother, Kath Cleveland, said she was disappointed WorkSafe felt a charge was warranted as the shooting could not have been predicted.

"The only thing I can say is these WorkSafe people might see something in it that us everyday people don't see. I don't know if it is going to help or not," she said.

Cleveland said her daughter never complained about feeling unsafe at work.

"I don't think anybody could comprehend what was going to happen. I feel it was like a loss to [the MSD] too."

The loss of her daughter, combined with it being such a highly public incident, had been very difficult to cope with, Cleveland said.

Things were just starting to settle down, with life slowly "getting life back to normal ... and now this has cropped up".

"I'm a pretty strong character and I'm still finding it hard; to me, [Leigh] is still here. It just happened so suddenly. And then with all the publicity and all the services and everything ... I just felt as though I was sitting on the outside watching someone else's life."

READ MORE: Ashburton shooting: Victims mourned

The Public Service Association (PSA) said WorkSafe NZ's decision to charge the MSD would not have been made lightly.

"It is crucial that the state sector learns every lesson possible to ensure that tragic events like the Ashburton shootings do not happen again," PSA national secretary Richard Wagstaff said.

MSD chief executive Brendan Boyle said the department would consider its position once it knew full details of the charge.

An independent review MSD commissioned into its physical security environment following the incident found safety and security protocols had evolved over time, rather than being strategically planned, resulting in inconsistent practices and cultures across the organisation.

Accountability and safety protocols had largely been left up to site managers, with senior management taking a back seat, it said.

Reporting of incidents was poor at some sites and there was a high tolerance of poor client behaviour and reluctance to use time-consuming reporting software.

However, the review found the MSD could not have prevented the shooting.

READ MORE:

* 'He didn't say a word' - witness

* Shooting victim dived under desk

 

 - Stuff

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