Coroner to hand down findings on Gargasoulas’ 2017 Bourke Street rampage

Save articles for later

Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.

Coroner Jacqui Hawkins will on Thursday morning hand down her findings on the deaths of six people during James Gargasoulas’ murderous rampage along Bourke Street in January 2017.

Gargasoulas, who is serving life in prison with a non-parole period of 46 years, killed the six and injured dozens more when he sped through the heart of the city in a stolen Holden Commodore.

Those who died were three-month-old Zachary Bryant, Matthew Si, 33, Thalia Hakin, 10, Jess Mudie, 23, Bhavita Patel, 33, and Yosuke Kanno, 25.

Police had begun searching for Gargasoulas at 2.20am on January 20, 2017, about an hour after he allegedly stabbed his brother, Angelo, multiple times in the face, neck and chest outside a housing commission flat in Windsor.

The wanted man had been on a two-month crime spree after returning from South Australia and eluded police – who at times were following him from the road and sky – for 11 hours that day before he careered down Bourke Street at 1.30pm. He was shot and arrested at the scene.

During Gargasoulas' sentencing in the Supreme Court in 2019, Justice Mark Weinberg described the massacre as "one of the worst examples of mass murder in Australian history".

At the time Melinda Tan, the widow of Mr Si, said through her lawyer she hoped an inquest into the deaths would shed light on past mistakes and "enforce changes that are needed".

Watch a live stream of the findings here. It's scheduled to begin at 10.15am:

In December 2019, Ms Hawkins began a six-week inquest into the deaths to explore how they could occur in the way they did and what, if any, potential for change there is to help prevent similar tragedies in future.

Gargasoulas driving outside Flinders Street Station shortly before the Bourke Street massacre.Credit:Urban Desi

She heard evidence from police officers involved in the hunt for Gargasoulas, those involved in his earlier arrests, the bail justice who release him on bail six days before the 2017 massacre, senior Victoria Police officers, those from the force's Critical Incident Response Team, and the families of those killed.

Bombshell evidence included revelations:

  • Of failed opportunities to arrest Gargasoulas in the hours before the tragedy.
  • That lives were put at risk by a “poorly co-ordinated, unplanned response” to his escalating offending.
  • Senior police, such as inspectors and superintendents, should have provided "active supervision" to "coalface" officers attempting the arrest.
  • The deluded driver may have decided to carry out his murderous rampage at the last moment.
  • Only Victoria's elite Special Operations Group stood a chance of stopping him once in Melbourne's CBD.
  • Elite officers didn't box in or ram Gargasoulas' car, fearing a "proverbial butt-kicking" for smashing the car.
  • The bail justice who freed Gargasoulas six days before the rampage claims police fabricated evidence to shift responsibility for the fateful decision to grant him bail.

The inquest also scrutinised Victoria Police's pursuit policy and procedures, including the hostile vehicle policy introduced in late 2019.

Throughout the inquest, the police involved in attempts to apprehend Gargasoulas took to the witness box to give sworn evidence, including officers from the St Kilda and South Melbourne police stations and the Critical Incident Response Team, and detectives from the Port Phillip Criminal Investigation Unit.

The Age previously revealed the specialised unit CIRT ignored repeated requests from local police to help contain and arrest Gargasoulas in St Kilda and Elsternwick almost nine hours before the tragedy. Instead, Gargasoulas was tailed by police for hours after critically injuring his brother with a knife in Windsor before driving across Melbourne and ultimately through the CBD.

Audio from the police radio as Gargasoulas tore through the CBD revealed senior officers had pleaded for someone to “take the vehicle out before he kills someone”.

One of the two CIRT officers who eventually shot the killer, Senior Constable Roland Jones, told the inquest he believed he could have done more to stop the driver, but admitted that when he tried to block traffic with his van and stop Gargasoulas near the West Gate Freeway, he would’ve been breaking force policy.

Critical Incident Response Team police member Roland Jones arrives at the inquest.Credit:Chris Hopkins

Giving evidence on the 19th day of the inquest, an emotional Senior Constable Jones told the victims' families: "I apologise that not more could be done to save your loved ones."

Top officers also attempted to keep a bombshell report into police actions on the day – dubbed the Fontana report – secret before the coroner released all 496 pages.

During his time giving evidence about his report, Assistant Commissioner Stephen Fontana said St Kilda police officers, who had laid charges against Gargasoulas in the days before the deaths, had failed to fully escalate his risk of offending, create an adequate arrest plan or raise their concerns up the "chain of command" after he was bailed.

Assistant Commissioner Steve Fontana arrives at the inquest.Credit:Simon Schluter

But rank-and-file officers hit out at much of the stinging criticism, revealing they believed they had been operating within mandated work guidelines, which included prioritising peaceful, planned and negotiated arrests over high-speed car chases and the use of force.

The families of some of the deceased later accused the senior officers of failing to acknowledge their own faults and instead shifting blame onto front-line officers.

Other relatives blamed complacency for what happened and said "the whole plan" to arrest Gargasoulas hinged on the pleas of one officer – Detective Senior Constable Murray Gentner – via phone and text messages where he asked the wanted man to surrender as he drove around the city.

Issues of how and why Gargasoulas was released on bail six days before the tragedy were also covered during the inquest.

It was revealed bail justice Christos Pantelios granted Gargasoulas bail despite him previously failing to report on bail 13 times.

Senior Detective Gentner, who was investigating Gargasoulas in the days before the killings, told the coroner he frantically ran down the stairs of a police station to stop the bail justice granting the criminal bail.

The officer gave evidence that he was so upset by the bail decision that he emailed his superiors, fearing Gargasoulas would hurt someone.

Detective Senior Constable Murray Gentner.Credit:Joe Armao

Conflicting accounts of the bail hearing at the St Kilda police station led to one officer being criticised for mistakes in his paperwork, while Mr Pantelios testified he could not recall significant details about the hearing and his recollections were "mixed".

The bail justice admitted he failed to follow standard procedures during the after-hours hearing but claimed police did not make "a massive song and dance" about Gargasoulas being a danger to the public.

Bail justice Christos Pantelios.Credit:Eddie Jim

Mr Si's father, Kheng Si, told the coroner he struggled to understand how Gargasoulas was on bail, despite multiple prior breaches, and was able to elude law enforcers as he continued to offend.

On the final day of the inquest, Mr Si's wife Ms Tan said she felt her husband had been “sacrificed” due to police complacency on the day of the deaths. She told the inquest that police were "never in control of the situation" when they failed to "stop one person in a car".

"The offender played them and he won," she said.

If you or anyone you know needs support call Lifeline 131 114, or Beyond Blue 1300 224 636.

Most Viewed in National

Source: Read Full Article