Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Police should have moved in earlier in Sydney siege: Coroner

SYDNEY 1Dec. 15, 2014, file photo, Jieun Bae runs to armed tactical response police officers for safety after she escaped from a cafe under siege at Martin Place in the central business district of Sydney, Australia. Police responding to the deadly hostage crisis in a Sydney cafe underestimated the gunman’s threat and should have stormed the building earlier, rather than waiting to act until the gunman had killed a captive, a coroner said on Wednesday, May 24, 2017.

SYDNEY: Police responding to a deadly hostage crisis in a Sydney cafe underestimated the gunman’s threat and should have stormed the building earlier, rather than waiting to act until the gunman had killed a captive, a coroner said Wednesday after concluding a 2 1/2-year inquiry.

The coroner’s findings follow intense criticism from many of the 18 hostages and families of the victims, who have long questioned why police waited nearly 17 hours to enter the Lindt Cafe and end the December 2014 siege. Police moved in only after an erratic Man Monis fatally shot cafe manager Tori Johnson. Monis was then shot dead by police and another hostage, lawyer Katrina Dawson, was killed in the crossfire.

Though New South Wales state Coroner Michael Barnes took pains to say that the only person responsible for the deaths was Monis himself, he concluded police made a series of mistakes, most notably by failing to immediately storm the cafe after Monis fired at a group of hostages who fled the building more than 16 hours into the crisis. Another 10 minutes elapsed before Monis fired his shotgun into the back of Johnson’s head, killing him instantly and finally triggering the police response.

“An emergency action should have been initiated following the first shot of Monis at 2:03 a.m.,” Barnes said. “That made it clear there was little to no chance of resolving the siege, and those within the cafe were at an extreme risk of harm. The 10 minutes that lapsed without decisive action by police was too long. Tori Johnson was executed in the meantime.”

Barnes said that while police correctly followed their standard policy of trying to negotiate with Monis and not cede to his demands early in the siege, alternatives should have been considered as the crisis wore on. A psychiatrist called in by police also gave erroneous assessments of the situation inside the cafe and issued ambiguous advice, which contributed to police underestimating the threat Monis posed, Barnes said.

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Multiple calls by hostages to a number they had been told would connect them with a police negotiator went unanswered, compounding their fear and frustration. At one point, hostage Marcia Mikhael called a Sydney radio station on Monis’ behalf and said police were doing nothing to end the crisis, saying, “They have left us here to die.”

New South Wales Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said the agency’s long-standing policy of “contain and negotiate” – trying to end standoffs peacefully – had saved many lives over the years. But he conceded that in the Lindt siege, police made the wrong call.

“In hindsight, knowing everything that we know now, New South Wales police should have gone in earlier,” Fuller told reporters.

The attack unfolded in the most unlikely of places: a cheerful chocolate cafe in the heart of downtown Sydney, at the start of a workday and just a week before Christmas. Australians were horrified and bewildered, and they demanded to know how such a thing could have occurred in their normally placid city. Barnes summarized the horror of the attack in his findings, saying the terror the hostages felt was akin to torture.

“Monis oscillated between feigning regard for their welfare and threatening to blow them apart,” he said. “They had entered a familiar environment only to find it transformed into a prison run by a vicious maniac.”

The inquest, a court-like proceeding convened after unusual deaths, examined everything from the police response, to whether the siege could have been prevented, to precisely what motivated Monis to attack. Though Monis demanded police deliver him an Islamic State flag at the outset of the crisis, there was no evidence he had ever established contact with the militant group. Many thought the 50-year-old Iranian-born man was simply a disturbed individual lashing out against a series of perceived personal injustices. In the lead-up to the siege, Monis had lost custody of his children, fallen into debt and was facing possible jail time on charges of sexual assault.

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