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Coroner: Australian Police Ill-Equipped to Handle Deadly Sydney Siege

  • Phil Mercer

A hostage runs toward a police officer outside Lindt cafe, where other hostages are being held, in Martin Place in central Sydney, Australia, Dec. 15, 2014.

A coroner in Australia says police made serious mistakes during a deadly siege in a Sydney cafe in December 2014. Two hostages died along with a lone gunman, a self-styled Islamic cleric, at the end of a 16-hour stand-off at the Lindt cafe in the center of Australia’s biggest city.

On December 15, 2014 terror struck the heart of Sydney’s financial district.

A gunman entered the Lindt cafe, had a coffee before holding a firearm to manager Tori Johnson's head. For the next 16 hours Man Haron Monis, an Iranian refugee, held eight staff members and 10 customers at gunpoint.

Over those terrifying hours several captives managed to escape, and police commandos eventually stormed the cafe after Monis murdered Johnson. Another hostage was killed in the crossfire, and the gunman shot dead by the police.

After an 18-month investigation, New South Wales coroner Michael Barnes criticized the police for not acting sooner. He said officers were ill-equipped to handle the siege to protect the 18 hostages, who suffered a terrible ordeal.

“The terror they endured could be described as torture as Monis oscillated between feigning regard for their welfare and threatening to blow them apart with shotgun blasts or a bomb. They had entered a familiar workplace or tranquil retreat only to find it transformed into a prison run by a vicious maniac,” said Barnes.

The coroner found the gunman was not suffering from a psychiatric disorder but was a troubled individual who was on bail at the time of the siege. He was accused of being an accessory in the murder of his ex-wife and had written offensive letters to the families of dead Australian soldiers. He was also facing more than 40 sexual assault charges. But despite this, the coroner said, the police had no accurate picture of who Monis was or what he was capable of doing when he took 18 people hostage.

The State coroner in New South Wales state ensures that all deaths, as well as fires and explosions, are properly investigated. If necessary, coroners can also recommend measures to prevent future deaths.

Barnes made 45 recommendations in his 600-page report after reviewing the Lindt cafe siege in Sydney.

Family members and friends of the two victims of the Lindt cafe siege have been highly critical of the response of the police during the stand-off.