How could it come to this? Minister admits he knew of tensions in lead-up to Croppa Creek shooting

THE state government has admitted it was aware there was tension surrounding illegal land clearing in the Croppa Creek area before Tuesday’s alleged shooting murder.

THEY KNEW: Environment Minister Rob Stokes, pictured centre with department chief Terry Bailey, right, and local MP Kevin Anderson, left, said they were aware of the issues in the Croppa Creek area which has now seen all operations on the ground suspended after Tuesday’s alleged murder. Photo: Gareth Gardner 310714GGA06

THEY KNEW: Environment Minister Rob Stokes, pictured centre with department chief Terry Bailey, right, and local MP Kevin Anderson, left, said they were aware of the issues in the Croppa Creek area which has now seen all operations on the ground suspended after Tuesday’s alleged murder. Photo: Gareth Gardner 310714GGA06

NSW Environment Minister Rob Stokes and Office of Environment and Heritage chief executive Terry Bailey flew into Tamworth yesterday morning to meet with grief-stricken family members and work colleagues of local compliance officer Glen Turner. The 51-year-old husband and father-of-two was on a reserve on Talga Ln, north of Moree, on Tuesday night when he was set upon and allegedly gunned down by local farmer Ian Robert Turnbull.

Mr Turner was allegedly shot in the back by the 79-year-old farmer, who is behind bars on one count of murder.

Local ecologist Phil Spark said he, along with other residents, had received no reply from the minister after highlighting the problems gripping the Croppa Creek area.

“I raised it with the minister last month. We sent a letter to inform him of the whole history, and we told him of the issues, what was going on,” he told The Leader.

“We’d written to Robyn Parker stacks of times to no avail.”

Mr Stokes wouldn’t be drawn on the letter or any of the information he had received, and said he 

could not go into detail without compromising the ongoing police investigation.

But he admitted he was aware there was tension on the ground.

“There has been a long history in relation to compliance in the Croppa Creek area,” he said.

Mr Bailey, who was visibly emotional, said some cases of local land clearing were before the courts in the long-running issue.

“Having taken that in to account, that increases the level of diligence we do in relation to the operations we conduct,” he said yesterday.

The department confirmed Mr Turner and his colleague were inspecting a separate property and had followed procedures, with a formal inspection of a property under investigation planned for the pair on Wednesday.

Mr Spark said the battle had gone on for far too long.

“These investigations have been going on for a long time,” he said.

“It shouldn’t have come to this.

“This delay, and inaction ... it has cost a man his life.”

Some of the investigative work at the department’s Tamworth office is continuing but on-site operations at Croppa Creek have ceased in the wake of the tragedy.

“We are not conducting operational activities at the moment. In a situation like this we need time for our staff to understand and digest,” Mr Bailey said. 

“I’m confident our policies and procedures will continue to stand us in good stead but we will be, in the interim, reviewing those and I’ve asked some people to look at that immediately.”

The comments came as Mr Bailey and Mr Stokes walked into a meeting with affected staff in the Tamworth office.

“We are doing everything we can to support Glen’s family. We will continue to do that, our staff, particularly the staff member there on the day of the incident, and our staff more broadly,” Mr Bailey said.

The department has confirmed staff have been offered support and counselling in the wake of the tragedy.

“We are here to show our support to Glen Turner’s family as well as his work colleagues and to the local community,” Mr Stokes said. 

“The events of Tuesday evening were shocking. They were terribly saddening. What we have seen is a terrible tragedy.”

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