Threats to staff close offices

A spate of threats has closed Work and Income offices around the country a day after a double shooting fatality at an Ashburton office.

Ashburton women Susan Leigh Cleveland and Peggy Turuhira Noble died in the shooting, and a third woman, Lindy Louise Curtis, was also shot and remains in a stable condition in Christchurch Hospital with leg injuries.

In the last 24 hours, there have been four threats against other offices around the country.

There were a total of 288 assaults and threats on Work and Income staff last year. 

A Hastings man was due to appear in court today after he allegedly indirectly threatened a Work and Income employee and was later found to be carrying a knife. 

Police were called to the office on Heretaunga St West at 3.20pm, after the 38-year-old was overheard making threats to staff.

In Blenheim this morning, a man was arrested after threatening Work and Income staff.

A police spokeswoman said the man was taken into custody about 1pm after the Armed Offenders Squad surrounded a house in Koromiko, near Picton.

He had called the Work and Income centre about 9.40am and threatened to go into the Alfred Street office with a firearm. 

The Timaru office had also received a threat this morning, a spokesman for Ministry of Social Development said. 

Yesterday, the New Plymouth Work and Income office was closed after a man who got angry during a call to a staff member made a comment about the recent Ashburton shooting. Police reportedly questioned the man while the office was shut for an hour around 1.20pm.

Director of the Institute of Criminology at Victoria University Professor John Pratt said that, unfortunately, copycat behaviour could be expected after a sensational event like the Ashburton shooting.

He said there was a world of difference between making threats and doing what the gunman had done. 

PSA national secretary Richard Wagstaff said the threats made to other Work and Income offices since the Ashburton tragedy were “unacceptable”. 

“Nobody should be attacked or threatened simply for doing their jobs,” Wagstaff said.

“Our Work and Income members across the country will be feeling especially vulnerable at the moment, and they deserve our support and compassion.

“The PSA and the ministry are working hard to ensure Work and Income staff have the support they need, and we will continue to do so.”

He said public servants should be proud to do their work, not fearful. 

Ministry of Social Development chief executive Brendan Boyle said all MSD offices in the Canterbury region were closed until midday today, to enable staff to come to terms with yesterday’s tragedy.

Owing to the ongoing police investigation into the shooting, the Ashburton office would remain closed until further notice, he said. 

“MSD has a range of security measures in place at all our sites, including panic buttons, security guards and emergency site plans,” Boyle said.

“These are reviewed regularly. Following yesterday’s tragic incident, I have ordered an immediate review of all of MSD’s security protocols.”