Tight security at court as mosque attacker's sentencing hearing begins

12:36 pm on 24 August 2020

Warning: this story includes distressing details of the 15 March mosque terrorism attacks.

The High Court in Christchurch is ringed with heavy security this morning for the sentencing of the mosque gunman, Brenton Tarrant.

Day 1 of Tarrant sentencing

Police snipers are part of the strong security surrounding the High Court in Christchurch. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

RNZ's reporter in Christchurch says police snipers have been seen on rooftops and roads near the city's justice precinct are blocked off.

Other court activity is limited to urgent matters only.

Strict cyber precautions for watching the trial via a livestream are also in place.

Dozens of mosque shooting victims and their families began waiting outside the court in the rain early this morning, with more than 60 expected to have their say.

Day one of hearing - Christchurch Law Courts

More than 60 victims are expected to have their victim impact statements heard in court during the sentencing hearing. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

The High Court hearing was set to start at 10am and is expected to take about four days.

It will be the first time Tarrant has appeared in person in the dock since his first appearance shortly after the 15 March attacks.

He has admitted 51 counts of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one charge under the Terrorism Suppression Act.

Day one of sentencing hearing in Christchurch

Armed police guard the entrance to the Christchurch High Court. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Nothing that is happening in the courtroom can be reported until after the 1pm adjournment.

The nature, scale and media coverage of the massacre positions the crime as a highly unusual court case, complicated by the second Covid-19 outbreak.

Despite this, the four-day hearing will follow the usual sentencing format aside from the reading of the summary of facts, outlining the admitted crime, at the start of the day.

This is expected to take some time, given the number of charges, and will be the first time the victims and their families will hear the massacre detailed in open court.

Next, 66 victims will share their victim impact statements, in person, by way of recording or through a supporter, in a stage of the sentencing that will likely take several days.

Crown prosecutors Mark Zarifeh and Barnaby Hawes will then make legal submissions before an amicus curiae, a lawyer assisting the court, will address the judge.

Given the 29-year-old has elected to represent himself at sentencing, either he or a standby lawyer appointed by the court will present legal submissions for the defence.

He will then be sentenced by Justice Mander.

'Hero' relieved hearing under way

The man hailed as a hero for saving lives by chasing the Christchurch gunman away from the Linwood mosque is relieved sentencing day is finally here.

Abdul Aziz threw an eftpos machine and gun at the attacker which scared the shooter off in March last year.

He is one of hundreds of victims coming face to face with the convicted terrorist today.

Abdul spoke to RNZ before heading into the High Court with his two sons and is glad the final chapter of his nightmare is ending.

"We are looking forward to these days actually because we have waited long enough for these days. We just want to close this chapter and move on. It's a mixed emotion."

He says he wants to stay strong and not show Tarrant how hard it has really been.

"I wrote down the impact statement but I just gave it to the judge to read it. But I don't want him [Tarrant] to know how much impact he has had on us. A lot of people's lives have completely [changed]. We're not really the same persons we used to be."

Abdul Aziz says he is not fearful of seeing Tarrant in person but says he expects memories and emotions to come flooding back.

Abdul Aziz, witness of Linwood mosque shooting

Abdul Aziz expects the court hearing to bring back many memories and emotions. Photo: RNZ/ Conan Young

Protesters gather outside court

A contingent of fringe protesters has gathered outside the High Court with a loudspeaker and New Zealand flags.

They are holding signs referencing conspiracy theories and gunman Brenton Tarrant, with slogans such as "Bush did 9/11" , "disarm and control" and "wake up NZ".

It is unclear what they are asking for.

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