6 Dec 2016

WINZ shootings: MSD convicted for safety breach

6:12 pm on 6 December 2016

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) has been convicted for breaching workplace safety legislation over the Ashburton WINZ office killings, but no further penalty has been imposed on it.

Wreaths were laid to mark a year since the  fatal shootings at the Ashburton WINZ office.

Wreaths were laid last September to mark a year since the fatal shootings. Photo: RNZ/Georgina Campbell

MSD was charged in the Wellington District Court after the fatal shooting of two staff members at its Ashburton office by Russell Tully in September 2014.

Russell John Tully at the High Court in Christchurch on

Russell John Tully Photo: POOL / Dean Kozanic

Earlier this year the Chief District Court Judge, Jan-Marie Doogue, ruled barriers should have been in place to protect staff.

However she said there was no causal link between MSD's breach and the shootings, as there was no way of predicting Tully's actions before they occurred.

Judge Doogue said today that, because the defendant was a Crown organisation, no fine may be imposed, but if it had been possible to do so she would have imposed a $16,000 fine.

She said the ministry's own data reporting system recorded 31 moderate and serious incidents at the Ashburton office between 2008 and 2014.

She also spoke of the emotional distress experienced by the organisation's staff before the shootings, as revealed in victim statements made to the court.

"They paint a picture of staff who felt distressed and under-supported when confronted by violent clients. Staff experienced feelings of anxiety and that they were expected to simply 'put up' with abusive behaviour.

"Staff felt anxious, apprehensive, intimated, scared, tense, nervous, uncomfortable or exposed and exhausted by the lack of physical protection and responsiveness of the defendant. In short, they felt vulnerable."

Judge Doogue said the victim impact statements showed MSD staff had at times been cornered and threatened, and did not feel that clients were adequately dealt with even when they had caused physical damage to the building.

The judge acknowledged MSD had made significant ex gratia payments to Tully's victims and had also offered support and counselling services to other employees at the Ashburton office.

She declined MSD's application to be discharged without conviction, saying even when mitigating factors were taken into account, the culpability of the offending required it to be appropriately held to account.

At sentencing in May, Tully was jailed for life and ordered to spend at least 27 years behind bars for the murders of Peggy Noble and Leigh Cleveland.

He was also found guilty of attempting to murder case manager Kim Adams, but was found not guilty of attempting to murder her colleague, Lindy Curtis, who was shot in the leg.

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