‘It’s very confronting’: Murdered Moira Shire manager’s family still grieves as council implodes

Key points

  • The devastated family of murder victim Rick Devlin are considering suing Moira Shire. 
  • Shine Lawyers believes the council may have breached its duty of care to Devlin. 
  • Devlin planned to move to Magnetic Island and spoke of an early retirement. 

The devastated family of a man murdered by a fellow employee at scandal-riven Moira Shire Council believe he may still be alive if appropriate action had been taken to counter a toxic workplace culture.

Rick Devlin’s mother and sister have spoken of their anguish at his sudden loss as they consider suing the embattled council that employed him.

Raelene Millington said a recently released investigation which uncovered a litany of failures by dysfunctional leadership at Moira Shire was like “an essay on how not to run a council”.

Raelene Millington with pictures of her murdered brother. Credit:Cameron Laird

“It’s very, very confronting to read in a document this [her brother’s death] was possibly preventable,” she said.

“So many people’s lives are affected by this one thing that could have been prevented if they had done their job properly.”

Devlin was gunned down outside his north Victorian home in August 2021 by a disgruntled colleague at the council in north-east Victoria.

A Commission of Inquiry into Moira Shire concluded Devlin’s death was a potentially preventable catastrophe that occurred in the context of a toxic work environment.

The inquiry report, tabled in Victorian Parliament this month, resulted in the state government sacking all the shire councillors.

Millington still struggles to accept her brother’s death 18 months on.

“I never realised how physical grief actually was because it hurts,” she said.

Millington said Devlin had spoken of his disillusionment with the job he no longer enjoyed and hopes of moving to tropical Magnetic Island in Queensland to be closer to her and their mother.

Devlin loved fishing, camping and visiting the beach, which he hoped to do more of as he talked about an early retirement at Moira Shire where he was operations manager.

“He was 55,” Millington said. “It wouldn’t have been far off.”

Rick Devlin with his sister Raelene Millington at Magnetic Island where he hoped to retire.

Millington said the council must be held accountable for the state of its workplace.

She said her brother was a loving father to seven children and doted over three grandchildren.

Millington is devastated three more grandchildren born since his murder never had the chance to know their “poppy”.

Devlin’s mother Sandra Devlin, who lives in Townsville with Millington, said her family had not had any direct contact with Moira Shire since her son’s death.

“The council never even sent a message to say ‘sorry … our condolences’ or anything,” she said.

Last year, Andrew Robert Paterson pleaded guilty in the Supreme Court to murdering Devlin outside his home in Numurkah. Paterson was sentenced to 26 years in prison with a non-parole period of 21 years.

The commissioners’ report said Paterson was stood down from his job at the Nathalia depot in 2019 after colleagues falsely accused him of stealing kerosene – an accusation he deeply resented.

However, the Supreme Court found Paterson had maintained an “unshakeable belief” that Devlin failed to manage his workplace grievance properly even though they did not have day-to-day contact and Devlin was not his direct manager.

The commission of inquiry report noted Devlin told his managers in 2017 there were cultural problems at the Nathalia depot that needed to be addressed following an external investigation.

However, the commissioners did not see any evidence that council administration acted in response to concerns about the workplace culture at the depot.

Devlin managed 100 workers across a range of roles from maintenance and road re-sheeting to parks and gardens. The commission reported Devlin ran the depots “essentially unchallenged by anyone in central administration”.

“The interviews that the Commission has conducted including with a number of depot and other outdoors staff have painted a fraught picture of a deeply divided workforce,” the report said.

“It was an environment in which staff were bullied and sworn at, harassed and threatened and sometimes ostracised by being given work to deliberately isolate them from their colleagues.”

Millington said she is upset by any suggestion her brother could be held at fault for the circumstances leading to his murder and insisted she knew colleagues who enjoyed working with him.

“Regardless of anything that happened in the workplace there’s no reason to take a gun and shoot someone.”

Shine Lawyers solicitor Natalie Williams said Devlin’s close relatives may be entitled to compensation for “nervous shock” – mental harm caused by the injury or death of another person.

“Moira Shire Council may have breached its duty of care to Rick Devlin by failing to take action despite knowing its workplace culture was extremely toxic,” she said.

Moira Shire independent administrator John Tanner said he understood the council had taken measures to offer support and comfort to Devlin’s family, including personal visits from the chief executive and former mayor, local paper condolence messages and flying flags at half-mast.

“As a council, we remain deeply saddened by the passing of Rick Devlin and continue to extend our
heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones,” he said.

Tanner, who was one of two commissioners who investigated Moira Shire, said all family entitlements were also addressed.

He said the inquiry had referred matters relating to Devlin’s death to the state coroner.

Now Sandra Devlin wants it known that her son’s family still misses him every day. She said Devlin “had his faults” but he was a lovable father and son.

Shortly after Devlin died, one of his daughters fell pregnant.

“It was heartbreaking to know that Rick was never going to see her baby,” Sandra Devlin said.

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