Australia

Sydney siege: Families criticise 'outrageous' police tactics

A tribute to Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson's deaths prompted thousands of tributes in Sydney

Relatives of two hostages who died in the Sydney siege have criticised police over their handling of the incident.

In December 2014, self-styled Islamist Man Haron Monis held 18 people hostage inside a Lindt cafe in the city centre.

Heavily armed police stormed the building 17 hours later after Monis shot cafe manager Tori Johnson.

A subsequent inquest was on Sunday labelled a "witch hunt" by the police union, but victims' families said police tactics had put lives in danger.

The relatives said they were shocked by revelations that police had planned to intervene only if the gunman killed or injured someone.

"I'll never be able understand how you can make a calculated decision that you wait for someone to die," Mr Johnson's mother, Rosie Connellan, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) in a programme to be broadcast on Monday.

New South Wales coroner Michael Barnes will hand down his findings into the 18-month inquest on Wednesday.

Image copyright ABC
Image caption Tori Johnson's mother, Rosie Connellan, was a constant presence at the inquest

Monis was shot dead by police during the raid, while another hostage, Katrina Dawson, was killed by stray bullet fragments fired by police.

The inquest aimed to establish whether deaths were avoidable and if it should have been treated as a terrorist event.


How the Sydney siege unfolded

  • A gunman enters the cafe early on 15 December 2014 and has a coffee before holding a gun to manager Tori Johnson's head.
  • The gunman is identified as Man Haron Monis, an Iranian self-styled Muslim cleric given asylum in Australia.
  • Monis already faces a string of criminal charges, including sexual assault and being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife.
  • Several hostages manage to escape the cafe which is surrounded by hundreds of armed police.
  • Police commandos storm the cafe in the early hours of 16 December, after Monis shoots Mr Johnson dead.
  • Monis and cafe customer Katrina Dawson die in the police operation.

In depth: Timeline of events


Relatives of Ms Dawson, a barrister and cafe customer, said the police tactics were "outrageous".

"The idea that we had to wait for somebody to be killed or seriously injured before the police would act was staggering," her brother, Angus Dawson, told the ABC.

The barrister's mother, Jane Dawson, said: "They should be saving them from death or serious injury."

Image copyright ABC
Image caption Katrina Dawson's parents, Sandy and Jane, tell of their anger on the ABC's Four Corners programme

Mr Johnson's partner, Thomas Zinn, said he had lost faith in police because of their "great level of incompetence" during the incident.

It is the first time the families have publicly criticised police, aside from when Mr Johnson's parents stormed out of the inquest during one testimony.

However, New South Wales Police Association acting chief Tony King said the inquest had scrutinised police officers "as if they were on trial".

"For some lawyers the focus appeared to be not just to attribute blame but moral culpability, twisting words to belittle experienced officers," he wrote in a long post on Medium.

Mr King said they should instead be thanked for putting their lives on the line.

Questions about why police snipers did not attempt to shoot Monis were heavily discussed during the inquest.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A hostage escapes from the cafe in Martin Place, in central Sydney

A police commander in charge of the operation had previously said the siege had the hallmarks of a domestic incident rather than terrorism, despite the fact that Monis asked to be given a flag of the so-called Islamic State (IS) militant group.

He said he had been advised by a psychiatrist that the siege was "final posturing" by Monis in order to gain some "street cred" before a likely jail sentence.

Monis had been facing dozens of sexual assault charges plus charges of being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife.