Sydney cafe siege: Inquest to examine police response

Police at scene of siege Image copyright AFP
Image caption Police entered the cafe after one of the hostages was shot dead, the inquest heard

Official inquiries into the Sydney cafe siege are to cast a spotlight on the police response to the crisis, and on Australian authorities' prior dealings with the gunman, Man Haron Monis.

An inquest, which began on Thursday, will ask how the siege was managed and whether it was seen as a terror attack.

Inquiries will also examine official dealings with Monis, a refugee from Iran who was facing criminal charges.

Monis and two hostages were killed in December's siege at the Lindt cafe.

Cafe manager Tori Johnson was shot dead by Monis in the early hours of Tuesday 16 December. His killing prompted armed police to storm the cafe, according to preliminary findings read out at the inquest.

Monis was killed in the police assault. Another hostage, barrister Katrina Dawson, died after being struck by ricocheting fragments of a police bullet, or bullets.

The siege began on the morning of Monday 15 December, when Monis - armed with a shotgun - took 18 people hostage in the cafe in Sydney's business district.

'Use of police marksmen'

The first day of the inquest, held at the New South Wales (NSW) coroner's court, outlined the scope of the inquiry.

Jeremy Gormly, a lawyer for the coroner, told the court that the inquest will examine the "plans and protocols" under which the police managed the siege, among other issues.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The inquest is upsetting to the families of Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson

He said the inquest would ask how the siege can "be appropriately categorised", and whether it had been regarded as a "terrorist siege".

Monis, who came to Australia as a refugee from Iran, had a history of religious activism and was on bail at the time of the siege for dozens of sexual assault charges and for being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife.

He claimed to be a cleric and asked his hostages to display an Islamic flag during the siege. However, questions remain about whether he had any links to international militant networks.

What the inquest wants to know

  • How Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson were killed
  • How police managed the siege, and what protocols they used, and how they managed hostages and the families during and after the siege
  • Details of Monis's political associations and public activity, his religious claims, his criminal history, his media profile and his personal relationships
  • Why Monis was free on bail, particularly over the charges concerning the murder of his ex-wife.

Mr Gormly said "the actual handling of the siege by NSW Police, who were in charge of the operation, will be the subject of various reports and analyses".

The inquiry would specifically look at "questions concerning the use of police marksmen, whether to wait or to act immediately".

The inquest is to run alongside other inquiries into the authorities handling of the siege and their dealings with Monis.

Mr Gormly said the coroner was also conducting an "independent, critical assessment" of the police response, in which he was being aided by UK police experts and the office of the chief coroner in the UK.

He said the inquest would draw upon the findings of another inquiry, carried out by the federal government and the NSW government.

This inquiry would look at Monis's official records, dating from his arrival in Australia 18 years ago and including his acquisition of Australian citizenship 10 years ago.

The inquest would also focus on how Monis came to be granted bail.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption People were evacuated from buildings nearby as the siege brought parts of central Sydney to a standstill

Material being considered by the inquest would include a wealth of sound and video recordings, as well as "social media exchanges and posts", Mr Gormly said.

The inquest would examine interactions "between hostages, police, and non-police parties and hostage families" and the extent to which "social media contact" affected "the prospects of resolution".

On Thursday, the court heard the most detailed description yet of events during the siege.

The inquest has now adjourned. A date has yet to be announced for the next hearing. All the surviving hostages are expected to give evidence.

How the 16-hour Sydney siege unfolded

  • 1. At 09:45 local time on Monday 15 December (22:45 GMT Sunday) police are called to the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Sydney following reports of an armed robbery. It soon emerges a gunman is holding a number of people hostage.
  • 2. Between 16:00-17:00, three men, then two women, sprint to safety from the cafe's side door - a fire exit.
  • 3. Just after 02:00 on Tuesday 16 December, a loud bang is heard from the cafe and special operations officers advance towards the side door.
  • 4. More hostages escape, running to safety on Elizabeth Street.
  • 5. Moments later, commandos storm the cafe via a number of entrances. The remaining hostages escape.
  • 6. Police officially confirm the end of the siege at 02:45 local time. They later report the deaths of three people, including the gunman.

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