AOS 'desperate for help' at mosque shooting

Christchurch's Al Noor Mosque. Photo: RNZ
Christchurch's Al Noor Mosque. Photo: RNZ

A senior police tactical operator says Armed Offenders Squad members were in despair on the day of the Christchurch terror attack when ambulances were not arriving at Al Noor Mosque as requested.

The officer, who cannot be named, told the inquest into the deaths of 51 worshippers by a gunman at two mosques on March 15 in 2019 that he was in the Southern Communications Centre when he heard AOS members at Al Noor Mosque in Deans Avenue call for ambulances multiple times.

He became frustrated there seemed to be a disconnect in getting medical assistance to the scene.

In the role of Zero-Alpha, or AOS commander, he said his frustration was not a criticism of St John, but from hearing over the radio "absolute despair" from AOS members on the ground who were not getting the help they desperately needed.

Forty-four people were murdered at Al Noor Mosque and many others were seriously injured after being shot.

"I remember saying to someone in the comms room something like, 'Do I have to physically go down and talk to them (St John) myself and advise them we need them to go forward?'"

The officer was questioned extensively on the response by AOS members and how teams were deployed to the scenes at Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre.

Counsel for families of victims Anne Toohey. Photo: The Press/ Iain McGregor
Counsel for families of victims Anne Toohey. Photo: The Press/ Iain McGregor

The Coroners Court has previously heard from an AOS team leader who expressed regret at deploying to Linwood from Al Noor, only to find there was enough police there already.

That AOS team leaving also meant severely injured victims were left alone in Al Noor Mosque for at least 10 minutes before St John paramedics first entered.

The Zero-Alpha officer said that AOS member had shared his concerns with him.

He told counsel for families of victims, Anne Toohey, he had to accept some responsibility for the team leaving Al Noor Mosque. 

"Look, it's hard for me to try and get across to the court just the sheer - I'm not going to say confusion - but the sheer volume of information and decision-making that had to happen.

"There's no excuses on my part, I'm not saying that, but it was certainly a monumental task to get pieces in the right place and look, if I could do things differently or better in an attempt to save lives, that's what I would've expected of myself and I would've expected that of the operators on the ground."

The victims being left alone in Al Noor was tragic, he said.

"There's no two ways around that and I completely sympathise with all the victims."

Had he known people were left alone in the mosque, he said he would have tried to get more resources there but it "took time for those wheels to start moving".

He did not know if he could have really assisted with it in any way.

The officer told the court he "absolutely" had never experienced an incident of such magnitude as what happened on March 15.

"I think it's important to understand that this kind of deployment, it is unprecedented in terms of the way the AOS usually deploy … the time delay between page and deployment can sometimes be up to 20 to 30 minutes.

"The court's got to understand because of the circumstances on that day, we were able to deploy four tactical contact teams into the field within 14 minutes. That is an unprecedented response, nationally in this country and I would suspect globally."

Senior Sergeant Roy Appley was in charge of the police communications centre on the day of the...
Senior Sergeant Roy Appley was in charge of the police communications centre on the day of the terror attacks. Photo: The Press / Iain McGregor

Incident controller unaware of St John's safety concerns

The incident controller in charge of deploying resources to the two mosques on the day of the attack says he was not aware of St John's safety concerns about the Linwood site. 

Had he known, Senior Sergeant Roy Appley said he would have done all he could to reassure the organisation that it was safe for paramedics to move forward.

The inquest yesterday heard Appley deny there was a breakdown of communication between police and ambulance staff.

He took the stand again on Tuesday morning and said questioning from lawyers was "inferring" that communication between the two groups was a key issue.

Appley said the safety of paramedics was "absolutely" taken into account, even though there was a great deal of information that was not passed on.

This included information from the police radio that suggested there were multiple offenders, a potential improvised explosive device (IED) at Al Noor Mosque, and an offender possibly still on scene at Linwood mosque.

When asked by St John counsel James Wilding if these examples should have been passed on to St John, Appley said no - except for the potential IED. Appley said this was something that "might" have been worth passing on but it was not essential.

During questioning by deputy chief Coroner Brigitte Windley, Appley said having a St John staffer sitting along side him during the entirety of the response may have been beneficial.

It meant any safety concerns by St John could have been expressed and dealt with on the spot.

Appley said he believed the fact that it was safe for St John to move forward at Linwood mosque was conveyed, but admitted it could have been made clearer.

But he was never aware of St John's safety concerns.

Had he known, Appley told police counsel Mark Zarifeh: "I would have done everything I possibly could to reassure them that the police had control of the scene and that it was actually safe to come forward".

Appley said he knew it was safe for St John to attend because police staff on the ground were saying so.

"Information from officers in the field at the scene is the absolute best information that can be obtained because they're there and they're operating there and they're giving clear instruction that they are needed another resource.

"In that respect, it is implicit that it is now safe for those resources to be deployed."

Appley said there were further safeguards police put in place for paramedics. This included having a cordon in place where St John resources arrive and a senior police officer who is responsible for taking paramedics forward.

The inquest continues.

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