St John did not have a plan to deal with a terror attack, leaving the organisation unprepared in responding to the Christchurch mosque massacre that left 51 people dead, an inquest has heard.
Two international counter-terrorism experts have told the Coroners Court there was a clear breakdown in communication between police and paramedics on March 15, 2019, when a gunman opened fire at Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre.
Scott Wilson, who was an expert witness at the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing inquiry, said while paramedics’ response was good on the day, the wider organisation was ill-equipped to deal with a terror attack.
St John lawyer James Wilding. Photo / Pool
He told St John lawyer James Wilding that he could not find any St John plan for a terror attack and a strategy should be developed.
“You don’t learn to dance the night of the ball,” he said.
Since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Wilson said fire and ambulance services in Britain had realised officers might need to work in danger zones.
“We started the programme as far back as 2009 and that’s exercised and tested regularly,” he said.
“I didn’t feel in Christchurch you had that personnel, that training, that expertise. You made it work on the day, but you probably weren’t really as equipped as you could have been to deal with what you faced.”
Counter-terrorism expert Scott Wilson. Photo / Pool
Wilson said the lack of preparation was even more concerning given other countries were “up to speed” with escalating global terrorism.
The inquest previously heard St John concerns about safety contributed to the delay in getting ambulances to both mosques.
Counter-terrorism expert Dr Frank Straub told the court there would always be a level of danger and emergency services had to make judgment calls.
“People are critically injured and dying and they’re going to continue to do so unless there’s aid rendered or extrication and transport to the hospital occurs,” he said.
“I think we would all like to operate under ideal situations. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. It works in absolutely horrendous situations, and I think that at that point, we have to weigh ‘what is the goal of our operation? What is the goal of the obligations we’ve made to enter into these professions?’
“I understand that it’s a personal decision, particularly for people who are volunteers, but you’re never going to have a perfect situation and you can’t wait for the perfect situation.”
Counter-terrorism expert Dr Frank Straub. Photo / Pool
The experts did not agree with police incident controller Senior Sergeant Roy Appley’s assertion there was some information that did not need to be given to St John, including ultimately incorrect reports of six armed offenders in Linwood and the terrorist’s claim he was one of 10 shooters in Canterbury.
Straub and Wilson said it would have been appropriate to pass that information on to St John while the rescue operation continued.
They said both agencies should have had a commander at a safe forward point, liaising directly with each other about the emergency response.
The inquest will examine the following 10 issues over six weeks:
[Events of March 15, 2019, from the start of the attack until the terrorist’s formal interview by police
Response times and entry processes of police and ambulance officers at each mosque
Triage and medical response at each mosque
The steps that were taken to apprehend the offender
The role of, and processes undertaken by, Christchurch Hospital in responding to the attack
Co-ordination between emergency services and first responders
Whether the terrorist had any direct assistance from any other person on March 15, 2019
If raised by immediate family, and to the extent it can be ascertained, the final movements and time of death for each of the deceased
The cause of death for each of the victims and whether any deaths could have been avoided
Whether Al Noor Mosque’s emergency exit door in the southeast corner of the main prayer room failed to function during the attack and, if so, why?
The inquest continues.
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