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Ashburton WINZ could've been safer: judge

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 11/09/2016

The Ministry of Social Development could have predicted an armed man would attack staff and taken steps to make offices safer before the Ashburton WINZ double killings, a judge has ruled.

Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue has decided in favour of WorkSafe New Zealand, which prosecuted the ministry over the 2014 killings of Peg Noble and Susan Leigh Cleveland by gunman Russell John Tully.

The ministry, which although it had admitted a health and safety charge when the case went to court in Wellington earlier this year, had argued its office layout was not unsafe.

But Judge Doogue disagreed.

"The hazard of client-initiated violence at the Ashburton office prior to 1 September 2014 was reasonably predictable," she said in her decision released on Monday.

"It was reasonably predictable that the hazard could manifest by a client being assaultive, or assaultive with a weapon other than a firearm."

Physical restrictions to stop someone getting in to staff working areas were a reasonably practicable step, she said.

Judge Doogue wasn't convinced by the ministry's argument that a zoning model in the offices would have minimised Tully's rampage.

Staff may still not have been able to get to a safe spot quickly enough and Tully could have shot the security guard instead.

She said that while it might cost up to $27.3 million to make existing WINZ offices safer, it had a $400m annual budget and the costs would not be disproportionate to the potential harm.

A sentencing date has yet to be set.

The ministry is not commenting on the decision, but it has been welcomed by the Public Service Association, which at the same time says is it also saddening.

"[Judge Doogue] found that physical restrictions on clients accessing staff working areas were a reasonably practicable step to take - and that none were in place."

Tully, 49, has already been jailed for at least 27 years after he shot dead Ms Noble and Ms Cleveland in a rampage through the Ashburton offices.

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