Australian coroner promises quick probe into deaths of two hostages in Sydney cafe siege

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - An Australian state coroner promised a quick investigation into the deaths of two hostages and a gunman during a siege at a Sydney cafe as he opened the formal inquiry on Thursday.

"The circumstances in which these deaths occurred raise issues relevant to the actual security and the sense of security of the wider population and that demands a speedy response," New South Wales State Coroner Michael Barnes said.

Hostages Katrina Dawson, 38, and Tori Johnson, 34, were killed in the final moments of the 17-hour siege last month, which ended when police stormed the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in central Sydney. Gunman Man Haron Monis, 50, was also killed.

Mr Barnes cautioned that it may not be possible to answer all the questions surrounding the deaths, given Monis was no longer alive, and that other details may be withheld for security reasons.

Mr Jeremy Gormly, counsel assisting the coroner, said there was no CCTV recording in the cafe during the siege but there were “surprising levels of electronic sound recordings and some film capture as well”.

Mr Gormly said every bullet fired by Monis, a self-styled sheikh, would be accounted for.

Monis held more than a dozen staff and customers hostage at the cafe, with some escaping before the shootout ended the siege. A government inquiry is ongoing into how he was able to access a gun and why he was granted bail while facing charges as an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife. He was also facing more than 40 sexual assault charges.

Monis harboured deep grievances against the Australian government and had found little kinship in the city’s large Muslim community, where he was seen as deeply troubled. He was found guilty in 2012 of sending threatening letters to the families of eight Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan as a protest against Australia’s involvement there.

The NSW Police Force and the two hostages who died were represented by lawyers at the inquest. Two unnamed police officers who were part of the team that stormed the cafe also had individual representation.

Monis’ defacto partner, Ms Amirah Droudis, was also represented. Only one surviving hostage, Mr John O’Brien, had separate representation.