In the final minutes of the Lindt cafe siege, gunman Man Haron Monis fired a shot as seven hostages made a dash for their lives. The terrified escapees told police outside that Monis had shot at them. CCTV showed the glass shattering behind them. A police log was updated to say the shot was “fired at hostages”.
But, nearby at the police operations centre, the commander in charge of the siege, Mark Jenkins, was not told this. Mr Jenkins, a seasoned officer and assistant commissioner, has held various posts during 35 years in the force including the head of the State Crime Command, commander of human resources and a stint as the head of firearms trafficking investigations for the Australian Crime Commission.
At 9.30pm on December 15, the night of the siege, he took over as commander from Assistant Commissioner Mark Murdoch and presided over the crucial last minutes that are now the subject of intense scrutiny.
This week, as the coronial inquest held its 16th week of public hearings, Mr Jenkins endured hours of heated questioning on his decision making and a string of possible errors from those final minutes emerged.
Information was missed, messages were not relayed up the chain, resources were unavailable, opportunities were overlooked.
On Friday, a police negotiator code named Reg added to the list of potential flaws by revealing the negotiators’ truck used for major incidents wasn’t available because it hadn’t been repaired after weather damage in 2011.
Instead, negotiators huddled inside the gaming manager’s office in the NSW Leagues Club and shared one landline, which meant some calls from hostages were diverted or unanswered.
Hours worth of transcripts and recordings of hostage calls from 9.44am to 1.16pm have also been lost, with Reg unable to say what happened to them.
At the heart of many questions to police officers during the inquest has been the central issue of whether they should have stormed the building before cafe manager Tori Johnson was executed rather than continuing with a “contain and negotiate” strategy.
That decision ultimately came down to a forward commander based in Martin Place, whose identity has been concealed, but was also overseen by Mr Jenkins as commander.
Death or serious injury to a hostage would have triggered the “emergency action” plan. An “imminent threat of death” was not an automatic trigger.
If Monis was shooting at hostages, that would probably have triggered the EA, Mr Jenkins told the inquest.
However, he didn’t get several crucial pieces of information that may have indicated this, such as the escaping hostages’ reports and the CCTV. He deduced that Monis had deliberately aimed at the roof.
“If I was convinced the shot was made directly at hostages then, yes, I would have thought an EA should have been activated … but I was not told that at the time and I don’t know that to be the case today,” he said.
Mr Jenkins was also not told about Mr Johnson’s final text message sent to his family at 1.43am saying: “He’s increasingly agitated. Walks around when he hears noises outside with a hostage in front of him. Wants to release one person in good faith. Tell police.”
Nor was he told by negotiators that a demand from Monis to turn the lights in Martin Place could be used as a bargaining chip.
He was not told that Monis had fired a third shot at 2.09am nor was he told that Mr Johnson had been made to kneel at 2.06am.
His view that an EA plan was not warranted before Mr Johnson’s death has put him at odds with Mr Murdoch who previously told the inquest that he would have expected the EA to be triggered when the first shot was fired.
Mr Jenkins’ view was also savaged by Gabrielle Bashir, SC, lawyer for Mr Johnson’s family, who accused Mr Jenkins of similarly “misjudging the level of risk” during a terrorism operation in 2005.
Then head of Counter-Terrorism Co-ordination Command, Mr Jenkins asked four local police officers to arrest Operation Pendennis terrorist Omar Baladjam and told them he wouldn’t be armed.
Instead, Baladjam had a gun and shot at the officers, who weren’t wearing bullet-proof vests, hitting one in the hand.
Internal reviews later deemed Mr Jenkins had failed in his duty of care by putting the lives at risk. He had managerial counselling after the incident and has since risen the ranks to become one of the most senior police officers.
At 2.13am, when the siege came to a deadly climax, it wasn’t Mr Jenkins who gave the green light to storm the building.
Ultimately, it was the forward commander. He will give evidence at a later date but his identity will remain a secret.
The final moments
9.44am December 15 Siege begins
9.30pm Assistant Commissioner Mark Jenkins starts shift as commander in charge
1.43am December 16 Tori Johnson sends final text message to his family
2.03am First shot fired as seven hostages escape
2.06am Mr Johnson is made to kneel
2.09am Another shot fired inside the cafe
2.13am Mr Johnson is shot dead and police storm the cafe. Katrina Dawson killed by police bullet shrapnel.
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