Christchurch terror attack: Families gain access to documents on response, investigation

By Jean Edwards for RNZ 

Families of the Muslims murdered in the Christchurch terror attacks will be given a raft of police and medical documents as part of a coronial inquiry into the mass shooting.

Last month, Coroner Brigitte Windley heard submissions from lawyers for affected families, Islamic organisations, police and the terrorist during a three-day hearing to determine the scope of her inquiry.

Several complained they had not been given documents underpinning reports and official responses, including material used by police and a medical expert.

Family lawyers asked the coroner to "pause and reset" the staged approach to disclosing information.

In a minute publicly released today, Coroner Windley said she would release a wide-ranging bundle of documents from police, Canterbury District Health Board, St John, and Dr John Hick to all lawyers and organisations considered interested parties.

"I have been alerted to concerns that the approach taken has been taken to mean that access to information was being prevented altogether, and that in the context of the limited information made available in the course of the criminal proceedings and the Royal Commission of Inquiry, this has been a source of particular distress to some families," she said.

People who are interested parties but do not have legal representation can ask for the same information on request.

In a separate order, Coroner Windley noted that limited information was available to families during the criminal proceedings and the Royal Commission of Inquiry did much of its work in private.

"Given that history, the information disclosure now available to interested parties, and that which will follow, will be the first substantive opportunity they will have had to consider source information from the police investigation and more detailed information about the response efforts on the day," she said.

Documents cover off police and emergency response

White supremacist Brenton Tarrant opened fire on worshippers at two city mosques on 15 March 2019, killing 51 people.

The documents include a December 2021 police report entitled "Compiled Response to Broader Issues - Police Response" that addresses questions about whether the gunman had direct help from someone else that day, or indirect support from online associates.

The report also covers questions about whether officers could have stopped the terrorist on the way to Linwood Islamic Centre, whether congestion on the emergency 111 line contributed to early calls being missed, discrepancies between time of death and mobile communication and inconsistencies in the timeline of the shootings.

Families will be given documents police used to compile the report, including online investigation material, statements from the terrorist's family and friends, fingerprints and DNA samples, police radio transcripts, CCTV screenshots, a statement from Dr Hick and a report by pathologist Dr Martin Sage.

The Canterbury District Health Board response covers when Christchurch Hospital was notified of the attack, if staff first heard about the shooting when two men arrived on foot from Masjid an-Nur (Al Noor Mosque), whether lives could have been saved and whether emergency policies were properly followed.

Next of kin will be given specific personal medical details about their relative's deaths.

A 2019 internal St John review will also be provided.

An interim non-publication order covers some of the evidence, including personal information identifying the dead, injured, witnesses, medical and emergency responders, the terrorist, and his family, friends or associates.

Tarrant's lawyer told the scope hearing his client asserts there are factual errors in the Royal Commission's report and he intends to see a judicial review of its work.

Until the nature of the asserted errors was known, it was difficult to assess whether information about Tarrant already in the public domain was potentially erroneous, Coroner Windley said.

"Publication of Mr Tarrant's personal information as detailed in the documents now available to interested parties may serve to compound any such asserted errors," she said.

The coroner is yet to decide which issues will fall within the scope of her inquiry, or whether an inquest will be held.

The gunman, an Australian who was radicalised online, was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 2020, on 51 counts of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one of terrorism.