Victoria Police cannot let its coronial lashing over Melbourne’s deadly Bourke Street Mall rampage become another missed opportunity, victims’ families say.
Coroner Jacqui Hawkins has made nine recommendations aimed at preventing a repeat of James Gargasoulas’ attack that killed six people and injured 27 others on January 20, 2017.
These include a review of police approaches to bail for high-risk and repeat offenders, the recording of after-hours hearings with bail justices and better training for officers.
An inquest found systematic failures by police contributed to the perfect storm that allowed Gargasoulas to manipulate the situation.
“It is agonising that despite the escalating events of the previous days and the scores of police members actively engaged in attempting to stop him, such a violent, drug-fuelled, psychotic and delusional perpetrator was able to slip through the cracks,” Hawkins said.
The killer was arrested and then released on bail six days before using a stolen car to run down lunchtime crowds along the CBD’s Bourke Street Mall.
Jess Mudie, 22, 25-year-old Yosuke Kanno, Matthew Si and Bhavita Patel, both 33, were among the murdered.
Three-year-old Zachary Bryant was also killed alongside 10-year-old Thalia Hakin.
Their families of Kanno, Si, Patel, Zachary, and Thalia criticised what they saw as the refusal of police during the inquest to accept responsibility.
“It was difficult to hear these officers reject any criticisms that were made of their actions, even when these criticisms had been levelled by senior members of the Victoria Police command,” lawyer Genna Angelowitsch said in a statement on the families’ behalf.
“It is imperative that Victoria Police see this inquest as a catalyst for real, meaningful cultural change within the force, lest this investigation be added to the list of opportunities missed.”
Si’s wife Melinda Tan said it was “clear to me that no one will accept any responsibility on their part for the events on that day or the lead up to it”.
Victoria Police maintained no-one could have predicted what happened.
“However, with the benefit of hindsight, it is clear there were some shortcomings in our operational response,” Chief Commissioner Shane Patton said.
He also said the force would consider the recommendations and that there had already been changes, including an overhaul of its hostile vehicle attacks policy.
Hawkins refused to name Gargasoulas as she detailed his horrors of that summer day.
“To simply describe these events does not capture their horror, occurring as they did in the midst of crowds of shoppers, tourists and office workers enjoying the height of summer,” she said.
“Numerous witnesses likened it to a nightmare. The moments they witnessed were simply beyond their comprehension.
“The offender’s actions are both unthinkable and repellent. They struck at the heart of Melbourne.”
Gargasoulas is serving a life sentence with a 46-year non-parole period.
Georgie Moore in Melbourne