Australian police strategy criticized in 2014 Sydney deadly siege inquiry | News | DW | 24.05.2017
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Australian police strategy criticized in 2014 Sydney deadly siege inquiry

After two years of testimony, authorities have released the final inquest into the 2014 hostage crisis that left three dead. The coroner slammed police hesitation and 'erroneous' advice from the consulting psychiatrist.

An official inquest published Wednesday found that police did not act quickly enough when a gunman entered a cafe in Sydney, Australia, in December 2014, leading to a 16-hour siege and three deaths. The medical examiner's extensive 2 1/2-year investigation came after heavy criticism from the families of the victims and many of the 18 hostages.

"I'll never be able to understand how you can make a calculated decision that you wait for someone to die. It's just beyond me," one of the victim's mothers told public broadcaster ABC.

While New South Wales Coroner Michael Barnes made it clear that gunman Man Monis was responsible for the deaths, the police were negligent when they failed to act immediately after he fired a warning shot.

Monis killed Lindt cafe manager Tori Johnson shortly thereafter, and customer Katrina Dawson was killed by fragments of police bullets when they finally entered the cafe several minutes later.

"The 10 minutes that lapsed without decisive action by police was too long," Barnes said. The incident has raised serious questions about the authorities' strategy of "contain and negotiate" in the wake of the hostage crisis.

Trauerfeier nach Geiselnahme in Sydney 23.12.2014 (Getty Images/D. Arnold)

Tributes to victims Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson

Psychiatrist gave 'ambiguous advice'

Barnes also said that the consulting psychiatrist on the scene "made erroneous and unrealistic assessments of what was occurring in the stronghold." He gave "ambiguous advice" that contributed to the security services' underestimating the threat that Monis posed.

The coroner stressed, however, that "the deaths and injuries that occurred as a result of the siege were not the fault of the police. All of the blame for those rests on the shoulders of Man Monis…He maliciously executed Tori Johnson. He barricaded himself into a corner of the cafe and his actions forced police to enter the cafe in circumstances where the risk of hostages being wounded or killed was very high."

Man Monis, 50, entered the cafe in downtown Sydney on the morning of December 15, 2014, and held the police off for 16 hours. The Iranian-born Monis had hostages hold up an "Islamic State" (IS) flag in the window of the establishment, but his motives were later questioned when it became clear he may have had a history of mental illness. During the tense stand-off Monis killed Johnson, before being shot dead by police when they entered the cafe.

New South Wales Police Commissioner Mick Fuller later conceded that officers should have tried to enter the cafe sooner but defended the "contain and negotiate" policy for saving lives.  

"In hindsight, knowing everything we know now, we should have gone in earlier," he told the press, saying that valuable lessons for the future had been learned from the incident.

es/jm (AFP, Reuters)