Homeless man 'was offered accommodation'

Last updated 12:06 02/09/2014
Paula Bennett in Ashburton
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Fairfax NZ
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett wipes tears from her eyes at a press conference at the Ashburton Work and Income office today after yesterday's shooting deaths.
BRENDAN BOYLE
KENT BLECHYNDEN
BRENDAN BOYLE: Said there was a strong awareness of security within the ministry.

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Work and Income staff had offered a homeless man charged with murder accommodation more than once, says Social Development Minister Paula Bennett.

Bennett and Work and Income chief executive Brendan Boyle were in Ashburton this morning, where they placed flowers at the cordon near to where a fatal shooting had taken place yesterday.

Russell John Tully has appeared in Christchurch District Court today facing two murder charges.

Bennett said the staff in the Ashburton office was "a tight group". "Right now they want to be together and talk it through."

Bennett said there had been "lots of tears" and not much sleep with people waivering the shock and trauma of what had happened.

"It's pretty humbling to hear things about the staff here."

Bennett said they had no answer to why the shooting had happened. "No one has got any of those sorts of answers right now."

She said Tully was offered "every assistance" and there was no fault on the part of any Work and Income worker. "I'm absolutely sure of that."

Asked about compensation for the victims' families Bennett said, "We will do whatever is necessary.

"We're open to whatever needs to be done."

They had gone through case files.

Boyle said about 120 to 130 people were trespassed from Winz, down from 150 last year.

He confirmed there would be a safety inquiry and an independent security review and counselling was being offered to staff around the country.

In Blenheim there was a firearm threat, by phone, dealt with by police.

ASHBURTON STAFF 'INCREDIBLE'

Bennett praised Work and Income staff for their actions on Radio New Zealand this morning.

"One went back and helped the injured when she just didn't know if she was safe or not. She didn't know where he was and yet she still went back and helped a colleague."

She had heard stories of clients hearing the shots and coming back to check on their case managers, including one client who rushed over to her case manager across the road "and just hugged and hugged her".

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"There are some remarkable people."

Bennett said she would be meeting staff in Ashburton again today to ensure they had all the support they needed.

"They've been through a really traumatic experience."

It was too early to discuss what security measures could be changed or added, she said, but a full review would be carried out.

She was satisfied Tully had been given plenty of support from Work and Income.

"He was getting everything he was entitled to. He was offered accommodation more than once.

"He was fixated on a house which he was never going to get quite frankly as it was a big house for a family, not a single man, so he was offered other assistance that he chose not to take."

Staff had gone "out of their way" to help him, Bennett said.

"I can't explain his behaviour yesterday."

WORK AND INCOME SECURITY WILL BE REVIEWED

Earlier today Boyle said the Ashburton office would remain closed until further notice as police continued their investigation into the shooting. 

Staff had been offered counselling. 

Boyle said MSD had a range of security measures in place at all of its sites, including security guards, panic buttons and emergency site plans.

The measures were reviewed regularly, but Boyle had ordered an immediate review of all protocols following yesterday's incident. 

"The vast majority of our clients are a pleasure to deal with despite being in often difficult circumstances," he said.

MSD had needed to trespass more than 120 people from its offices in the last financial year though, and recorded 288 assaults and threats on Work and Income staff in 2013. 

"We take these extremely seriously. The bottom line is no staff should be subject to intimidation," Boyle said.

"I want to acknowledge and thank all staff at MSD for the amazing work they do every day."

This morning he told Radio New Zealand that security guards were there to "deescalate" situations and were not armed.

"Given the nature of what happened here I don't think any security guard would have been in a position to be able to deal with a guy bursting into an office with a shotgun."

Arming guards was seen as "taking it a step too far", he said.

Winz staff did 7000 face to face interviews with the public everyday, he said.

Threats and assaults made for a small percentage of encounters, he said.

When the CEO was asked about the possibility of installing bulletproof glass in Work and Income offices around New Zealand, he said he had talked to staff about security. They had valued the face to face contact and would be looking into the option as part of their review proccess.

"I'm very wary of turning the office into a fortress," Boyle said.

MSD recorded about 11 assaults on Work and Income staff in the last six months, and about 80 to 100 serious verbal assaults.

"That has trended up slightly in recent years, but not alarmingly so. It's a risk in any of these frontline jobs ... in any public service job. We can never take away that risk entirely."

- The Press

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