Christchurch mosque attacks: Coroner hopes inquest will shed light on the dark

Four years on from New Zealand's darkest day, the coronial inquest has opened into the 51 men, women and children murdered in Christchurch at two mosques on March 15, 2019.  

Hundreds of people arrived at the justice precinct in Christchurch for the first day of the six-week hearing, for what was a highly emotional day beginning with each of the 51 individuals remembered. 

The day began with a whakatau and a karakia as three courts filled up with survivors, friends, family, and more than 20 lawyers representing the over 140 interested parties in the inquest. The Imam from Al Noor Mosque, Gamal Fouda, then recited the Quran.  

The scale of this coronial inquest is unprecedented in New Zealand. There are 600 family members registered to attend the inquiry in person, while 100 others are viewing online from afar. 

This is the first phase of the inquest into the events of March 15 and will look at 10 issues mostly to do with the events of the day itself including the emergency response from St John, Police and Christchurch Hospital.  

After the 51 names were read to the court, Deputy Chief Coroner Brigitte Windley outlined the scope for the first phase of this inquest and said it was to provide answers to the families impacted and shed some light on the dark.  

"While each of the 51 were joined together by faith, the events of 15 March have also joined them together in their deaths. But none of them are defined by what happened on 15 March. We must recognize each of them as a unique life that has been lost," Windley said. 

She said it is not about liability or compensation but about figuring out whether the response on the day was adequate.  

"I must make clear that this inquiry is not about establishing liability, or negligence. I have no mandate to award compensation or to direct further proceedings. But it is about accountability for actions, or inactions," Windley said. 

A tribute video was played to the court showing all 51 men, women and children with photos and tributes from their families. Sobbing was heard from the public gallery and some of the lawyers representing family members and other parties. 

The inquest is set down for six weeks.