SYDNEY (AFP) - One of the two hostages who died in a 16-hour siege at a Sydney cafe in December was killed by ricochets of a police bullet or bullets, an inquest into the deadly stand-off heard on Thursday.
Barrister and mother-of-three Katrina Dawson, 38, was killed along with cafe manager Tori Johnson, 34, and gunman Iranian-born Man Haron Monis when police stormed the cafe in Sydney's financial district.
"Ms Dawson was struck by six fragments of a police bullet or bullets which ricocheted from hard surfaces into her body," counsel assisting the coronial inquest, Mr Jeremy Gormly, said.
“I will not detail the damage done to Ms Dawson other than to say that one fragment struck a major blood vessel. She lost consciousness quickly and died shortly afterwards.”
The inquest at the North South Wales Coroners’ Court will outline what happened in the siege, investigate the police response to the hostage situation and delve into the background and motivations of Monis.
A separate joint investigation commissioned by the federal and New South Wales governments is set to submit a report into the siege in the next few days.
Mr Gormly told the hearing that Mr Johnson was killed when he was shot in the back of the head by Monis with a sawn-off shotgun after being made to kneel on the floor just moments after several hostages fled the cafe.
“Mr Johnson was made by Monis to kneel on the floor of the cafe. After a short lapse of time, Monis simply shot him without further notice or warning in the back of the head,” Mr Gormly said.
“The end of the barrel was about 75cm from Mr Johnson’s head at the moment of discharge. Mr Johnson is believed to have died immediately.”
Mr Gormly said the shooting was witnessed by a police marksman, which then led to the order for trained police “tactical operatives” to force their way into the cafe.
Some 22 shots were fired by the officers at Monis after 11 flash bangs were thrown into the cafe, while Monis fired two shots, the hearing was told.
“Bullets and fragments of bullets hit Monis, who was it seems killed instantly,” Mr Gormly said. “At least two bullets, police bullets or bullet fragments, hit Monis in the head and 11 other bullets, police bullets or fragments, hit him in the body.”
None of the rounds struck anyone apart from Mr Johnson, “although he appears to have been trying to do so", Mr Gormly added.The inquest will look into Monis’ claims his actions were an attack on Australia by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and whether he had any terrorist associations.But Mr Gormly noted “at present it seems he had not established any contact” with the militant organisation.Australia raised its threat level to high in September and carried out a series of counter-terrorism raids following a flow of its nationals to Iraq and Syria to fight with ISIS and other militant groups.Questions raised in the siege’s aftermath about why Monis, who had a history of extremism and violence, was free on bail – despite facing various charges including abetting the murder of his ex-wife – will been explored during the inquest.The hearing was told Coroner Michael Barnes had commissioned an independent review into police handling of the siege.The review will be undertaken by British police specialising in siege management, supported by experts from other Australian states.“If there were defects in the management of the siege, they will be exposed,” Mr Gormly said.“But if there were not, a public review of the management and options for any future need is part of the current investigation.”
The inquiry is also expected to hear from surviving hostages, and review sound and video recordings, social media postings and phone calls that were made during the stand-off.