Was Tarrant a lone wolf? No-one believed that, yet no-one here in New Zealand knew who he was, except local Muslims. Then the Australians came over here asking us after their police tipped them upside down, because no-one the media blamed in Australia knew anything about him either. That he was recognised as a ‘brother’ who had previously visited seems to indicate more is going on than we are being told.
Survivors of the Christchurch mosque attacks want more scrutiny over whether the Australian terrorist was indeed a lone wolf or whether he had help to carry out the massacres.
Some families and survivors of the March 15, 2019, terror attacks, which claimed 51 lives, are also demanding further probing into how the gunman was able to get a firearms licence.
And this morning, at a hearing into the scope of the coronial inquiry into the attacks, there have been calls to check allegations of “aggression” by first police officers on the bloody and chaotic Al Noor Mosque scene and claims that officers pointed guns at victims.
Coroner Brigitte Windley is presiding over a three-day scope hearing starting in Christchurch today.
It is designed to give interested parties, including victims and families, an opportunity to make submissions themselves, or through a lawyer, on exactly what a coronial inquiry into the attacks will look at.
The inquiry will ultimately aim to establish the cause and circumstances of death, where possible, and consider any recommendations or comments that could help reduce the chances of further deaths in similar circumstances.
There has been no decision on whether a full inquest hearing will be held.
Australian terrorist Brenton Tarrant, who was jailed for life without parole in August 2020, is dialling into the scope hearing from maximum-security at Auckland Prison but is not seen or heard from. He is being represented by Auckland defence lawyer Ron Mansfield, QC, who could make oral submissions on his behalf.
The hearing began with the reading of the names of 51 people murdered on March 15 and Windley paid her respects to the shaheed (martyrs), along with the survivors and families left behind.
“I cannot pretend to understand how the lives of their wh?nau have been forever changed. I offer my sincere condolence,” said the coroner, who also assured that those who lost their lives “are, and will remain, at the very heart” of the inquiry.
This morning heard submissions from experienced lawyers Nigel Hampton, QC, and Kathryn Dalziel who are representing a number of interested parties from the Al Noor Mosque.
Hampton raised concerns that the families haven’t received all relevant information, which is hindering their ability to make informed submissions.
He said that during 55 years of appearing in inquests, including the inquiry into the February 22, 2011, collapse of CTV Building, he cannot recall a situation where “a bundle of everything” has not been given to the families of the deceased, allowing “fully informed discussion on all sides”, including the judicial side, as to what the issues are and how they should be handled.
Given they are examining the worst mass homicide in New Zealand, Hampton asked: “Why are families of these deceased being treated in a way that seems to single them out in a different category to families of every other homicide?”
There needed to be a “pause and reset”, Hampton said, before continuing much further into the coronial process.
Inquiries into the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing in England and Sydney’s Lindt Cafe siege in 2014 both had full disclosure of information, Dalziel said, in endorsing Hampton’s submissions.
The terrorist’s motives, and “drivers”, should also be considered, the lawyers said, saying that just because the royal commission of inquiry looked at something doesn’t mean that it should not be looked at by a coroner.
A major concern for their clients is how the terrorist was able to get a gun licence, with some of them having gone through the firearms licence process themselves and being “literally tipped upside down and shaken about” to make sure they were not potential terrorists.
Another major question they have is whether the terrorist had “direct assistance from another person present on March 15”.
“We have clients who say they witnessed someone else on the day [that] they believe is not the terrorist,” Dalziel told Windley.
They have been trying to get information from police, along with videos taken from outside the Al Noor mosque, to see on what basis police, and the royal commission, determined that no one else was involved.
Other questions include whether fingerprints or DNA was taken from all the firearms found at the scene; if the terrorist had support from “online associates”; and why police did not stop him leaving Al Noor for the Linwood Islamic Centre where he continued his murderous rampage.
One of the most sensitive issues was whether police were confrontational or aggressive to some of the survivors on arriving at the Al Noor Mosque.
Dalziel said there was “overwhelming evidence” from clients that “it was not just the terrorist who pointed guns” at them or loved ones that day.
Some of the survivors tried speaking to first police officers on the scene to say that the terrorist had left but claim guns were pointed at them and they were yelled at, told to sit down and shut up.
There are concerns that the pointing of police guns amounted to further trauma and could have also contributed to deaths.
Families are thankful for what the first responders did that day, but they want scrutiny over whether what happened was done correctly and if there could be any recommendations to save lives in the future.
Earlier, a last-minute application calling for Coroner Windley to recuse herself as the responsible coroner on the grounds of apparent bias was declined.
Lawyer Nigel Hampton QC who initially made the application, which was later backed by other interested parties, said it was a matter of perception of bias which raised concerns.
The basis for the grounds was that, prior to being appointed as a coroner, she was employed by the New Zealand Police as a legal advisor from 2007 to 2014 and also that in 2015 she had been seconded to the Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security as a Senior Investigator.
Hampton felt that was still “recent history” and there were concerns that she might have relationships with senior people in police and spy circles. It comes after some families have had existing deep-seated mistrust of state institutions.
Lawyer Anne Toohey, who is also acting for clients, also stressed it was a matter of perceived bias, rather than actual bias.
She understood there were only a few police legal advisors and it was likely that senior police officers would be giving evidence about their response to the attacks. There was a “real possibility” that could include officers the coroner had previously had close professional relationships with.
Toohey added that the police response was “front and centre” of the inquiry.
Other submissions said there was already mistrust given that the royal commission of inquiry into the attacks found that authorities had shown an “inappropriate concentration of resources” probing Islamic extremism before the attacks.
Today, Coroner Windley responded by saying that police officers who feature in the evidence are not known to her, as far as she is aware.
She had been acting as a non-sworn officer and was not based at police headquarters.
After a 30-minute hearing, Coroner Windley declined the applications, saying that her full reasons would be given in due course.
The scope hearing continues.
Survivors ask coroner to probe whether Australian terrorist was a ‘lone wolf’