Christchurch terror attacks: Top coroner opens inquiry into shootings

A coronial inquiry into the 2019 Christchurch terror attacks has been opened by the chief coroner.

The March 15 shootings at the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre left 51 people dead and 40 others injured.

In a statement on Thursday afternoon, Chief Coroner Deborah Marshall said she had formally opened a coronial inquiry into the masjid attacks, having "considered the questions and concerns raised by families of the Shaheed, victims and other interested parties".

"Opening an inquiry allows more in-depth investigation into the causes and circumstances of the deaths resulting from the attacks," Marshall said. "It also allows a coroner to make recommendations or comments that might prevent similar deaths [from] happening in the future. 

"It's worth noting that an inquiry must be opened before an inquest (a hearing in court where the coroner hears from witnesses in person) can be held, but a decision has yet to be made about whether an inquest will occur and what form it might take."

She said as she is retiring from the post of chief coroner, coroner Brigitte Windley will be assigned to the inquiry.

"Coroner Windley is a highly experienced coroner based in Wellington, who was appointed to the coroner's court in 2015 and has undertaken many complex inquiries. 

"She will continue to work alongside me until I hand over the inquiry and she becomes the responsible coroner. The processes I have already set up in this investigation will not change.

"The coroner's court will work to ensure the families of the Shaheed, victims and interested parties continue to be involved in the inquiry process, that the many people and communities impacted by this tragedy find some answers to lingering questions, and that the deceased are given a voice."

Australian man Brenton Tarrant was last year sentenced to life in prison without parole for committing the attacks. He pleaded guilty to all charges - 51 murders, 40 attempted murders and one charge of committing a terrorist attack. 

A Royal Commission on Inquiry into the attack found no failures within any Government agencies that would have allowed the individual's planning and preparation to have been detected. However, things could be changed - particularly in the areas of security and intelligence, the report found. 

The Royal Commission concluded in its findings the concentration of counter-terrorism resources on the threat of Islamist extremist terrorism was "inappropriate".

It found the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) had "decided to concentrate its scarce counter-terrorism resources on the presenting threat of Islamist extremist terrorism".

At the time of the report's release in December, the Government agreed to implement all 44 recommendations.