Police gunfire killed Sydney siege victim: inquest

An inquest into a deadly siege in a Sydney cafe began on Thursday, aimed at determining exactly how a gunman and two of his hostages ended up dead after a 16-hour standoff with police.

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SYDNEY // Ricochets from police gunfire killed one of the two hostages who died in a 16-hour siege at a central Sydney cafe in December, an inquest into the deadly stand-off heard yesterday.

In graphic details of the stand-off which shocked Australia, the coroner was told that the other victim was made to kneel down and shot in the back of the head after a group of hostages escaped from the Lindt chocolate cafe.

The shooting of cafe manager Tori Johnson by Iranian-born gunman Man Haron Monis led to the order for police to storm the cafe in the early hours of December 16, with the ensuing gunfire leading to the death of barrister and mother-of-three Katrina Dawson.

“Ms Dawson was struck by six fragments of a police bullet or bullets which ricocheted from hard surfaces into her body,” said the counsel assisting the coroner’s inquest, Jeremy Gormly.

“She lost consciousness quickly and died shortly afterwards.”

Dawson, 38, and Johnson, 34, were among 17 hostages caught up in the cafe siege, which raised questions about why Monis – who had a history of extremism and violence – was at large despite facing charges including abetting the murder of his ex-wife.

Early accounts of the crisis had said Johnson died after trying to disarm Monis, but Gormly said he was shot by the 50-year-old attacker with a sawn-off shotgun just moments after several hostages escaped.

“Johnson was made by Mr Monis to kneel on the floor of the cafe,” he said.

“After a short lapse of time, Mr Monis simply shot him without further notice or warning in the back of the head,” he added.

Outside the court, one of the hostages who escaped in the first few hours, 82-year-old John O’Brien, told news.com.au it was “upsetting” to hear about Johnson’s final minutes.

Mr O’Brien and other survivors are likely to be called on to give evidence during the inquest, which will outline what happened, hear about the hostages’ experiences, investigate how police managed the siege, and delve into Monis’s background and motivations.

Australia raised its threat level to high in September and carried out a series of counter-terrorism raids following a flow of its citizens to Iraq and Syria to fight with ISIL and other militant groups.

* Agence France-Presse