A senior police officer has defended a decision not to storm the Lindt Cafe until the death or serious injury of a hostage.
Superintendent Allan Sicard, who was the forward commander in charge during the early hours of the December 2014 ordeal, said taking out hostage-taker Man Haron Monis might have put the 18 hostages at an unnecessary risk of death.
He told the siege inquest on Tuesday that lessons he learned in other critical operations, including the 2011 “collar bomb” incident involving Sydney teenager Madeleine Pulver, were that time sometimes negates the risks faced by hostages.
“In the two hours I was there, the incident never escalated to a level that I thought we needed to implement an emergency action plan,” he said.
Triggers for that plan, he believed, were the death or serious injury of a hostage, or the imminent threat of either of those things happening.
But Gabrielle Bashir SC, the lawyer for the family of Tori Johnson who was murdered during the siege, questioned whether a trigger that activated in the event of the actual shooting of a hostage failed to protect that innocent person.
Supt Sicard acknowledged that where there was no other trigger, that could be the case.
“In the cold context of the question I would say we haven’t protected that person but there are multiple other people in that room that have to be taken into consideration as well,” he said.
The siege reached its deadly conclusion after 17 hours when officers stormed the Martin Place building following Monis’ point blank execution of Mr Johnson.
Monis was gunned down, while barrister and mother-of-three Katrina Dawson also died after being hit by shrapnel from police rounds when they entered the cafe.
Supt Sicard said he could have given orders for the Tactical Operations Unit to enter the cafe during the first two hours of the siege if the risk to the 18 hostages escalated, but he did not see that happen.
“For us to charge in the first two hours could have caused the explosive device to go off, it might have caused the unnecessary death of hostages,” he said.
He had told the inquest on Monday that police treated the threat of a bomb in Monis’ backpack as well as a possible second radio bomb as real threats because officers were unable to go through their usual processes to determine otherwise.
It was only confirmed after the siege ended that the backpack device was a speaker.
The inquest also heard on Tuesday that police were called to investigate 15 other threats in the city that day, including threats of explosive devices and suspicious people or vehicles in Circular Quay, George Street and Town Hall and Wynyard stations.
Detective Chief Inspector Craig Middleton, whose job it was to co-ordinate the investigation of threats outside Martin Place, admitted hostages who passed information from Monis about possible bombs in other locations wouldn’t be told when police discounted those threats.
He answered “no” when asked if he would pass that information back to negotiators where threats were sourced from hostages.
Senior NSW police, including now-Assistant Commissioner Michael Fuller, are expected to continue giving evidence in relation to police management of the siege when the inquest continues next week.