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article imagePolice criticised for tactics in deadly Sydney cafe siege

By AFP     May 23, 2017 in World

Police underestimated the threat posed by a self-styled Islamic cleric during a Sydney cafe siege and took too long to storm the building, an inquest found Wednesday, but it absolved them of blame for two deaths.

The findings into the December 2014 tragedy that shocked the nation followed intense scrutiny of New South Wales police tactics, which have been blasted by families of those who died.

Despite his criticisms, coroner Michael Barnes made clear Iranian-born Man Haron Monis, a "vicious maniac", was solely responsible for what unfolded at the Lindt cafe in the city's financial hub.

"I cannot stress too heavily that the deaths and injuries that occurred as a result of the siege were not the fault of the police," he said. "All of the blame for those rests on the shoulders of Man Monis.

"He created the intensely dangerous situation. He maliciously executed Tori Johnson.

"He barricaded himself into a corner of the cafe and his actions forced police to enter the cafe in circumstances where the risk of hostages being wounded or killed was very high."

Monis, 50, began the siege in the upmarket chocolate cafe early on December 15, 2014, taking staff and customers hostage for 17 hours, armed with a pump-action shotgun.

It ended after he shot dead 34-year-old cafe manager Johnson.

Tactical police stormed the building, killing Monis while Katrina Dawson, a 38-year-old barrister and mother-of-three, died after being hit by a ricocheting police bullet or fragment.

Barnes said the challenge faced by detectives was "greatly increased by the fact that this was the first terrorism-related siege in Australia".

But he said they waited too long to make their move after the first shot was fired by Monis.

"The 10 minutes that lapsed without decisive action by police was too long," he said.

Barnes also described an unnamed consultant psychiatrist's role in advising them on tactics as "suboptimal".

"He made erroneous and unrealistic assessments of what was occurring in the stronghold. He gave ambiguous advice," he said, adding it was partly to blame for how police commanders "underestimated the threat Monis posed".

Barnes called on police to consider expanding the number of psychological advisers it uses as consultants and introduce clear policies for any that are called on to assist in future.

He also recommended police review the training and accreditation of negotiators.

Victims' families have been critical of the tactics used by police, who hoped to "contain and negotiate" with Monis, believing he also had a bomb in his backpack which was later found to be fake.

They were incensed when learning police only planned to move in if a hostage was killed or seriously injured.

"I'll never be able understand how you can make a calculated decision that you wait for someone to die. It's just beyond me," Rosie Connellan, Johnson's mother, told broadcaster ABC ahead of the inquest findings.

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