15 Aug 2019

Trial hearing 'just another game', says victim

6:53 pm on 15 August 2019

The trial of the man accused of the Christchurch mosque attack is still due next year but exactly where and when this happens has still to be decided.

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Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

Brenton Tarrant's case was back in the High Court in Christchurch on this morning.

He is accused of killing 51 Muslim worshippers and injuring dozens more.

His appearance in court was excused today as his legal team and the prosecution discussed procedural matters.

They set dates for hearings to discuss a possible change of venue for the trial and the prospect of moving it forward three to four weeks so it did not coincide with the holy month of Ramadan.

The hearing followed revelations the accused gunman managed to get a letter from his maximum security cell to a supporter who then posted it online.

None of what was said in court today could be reported but families and victims were allowed in to view proceedings, along with media.

Only a handful of families took up the opportunity, with about 180 in Saudi Arabia to undertake Hajj at the moment.

Outside court, Hazim al-Umari, who lost his 35-year-old son in the shootings, said he struggled to see why there needed to be a hearing to discuss the possibility of moving the trial outside of Christchurch.

"I see this as just another game. I don't see any advantage in this."

Hazim al-Umari expressed anger at the accused man being allowed to write letters to supporters on the outside.

"That's very dangerous. So many things should change and be looked into. And I appreciate what the government is doing, but looks like they are treating him like a normal [prisoner]. And I think this is completely wrong."

He paid tribute to his son, Hussein al-Umari.

"He was a real heroic person. He tried to rescue all the others by telling them go out go out while he was standing, waiting for the terrorist to come and he was fit to knock him down. Sadly God wanted something else."

Albert John Milne, who lost his 14 year-old son Sayyad Milne in the Al Noor mosque, said it was important to be in court to honour his son's memory.

"I want to appear as often as I can to whichever hearing I can. My son cannot be brought back but I believe he has gone to paradise."

Mr Milne hoped Corrections would now keep a closer watch on the correspondence coming from the accused.

But he understood the need to let the process take its course when it came to decisions around where the trial would happen.

"It's just a long lengthy process. We've never had anything like it in the whole history of New Zealand. It's just so devastating for so many people."

One of those supporting victims, Raf Manji, was glad the courts were now considering Muslim custom in deciding on whether the trial could be shifted so that it did not coincide with Ramadan.

"Generally the families now are getting on with the healing process. And obviously lots of them are at Hajj, which has been very helpful. So the fact that the the trial date is far away now is actually not as much of an issue as it was previously. I mean, certainly they would like it all to be sorted out, but they also understand the legal process that has to be undertaken."

Meanwhile the National Party has accused Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis of using law changes to deflect the fact he should have been more involved in how his department was dealing with the accused.

National Party Corrections spokesperson David Bennett said the Corrections Act had provisions to stop the letter.

"It's completely unacceptable, it shows a real break-down in process within Corrections and also within the Minister office, there is no way the victims should have to go through this again," he said.

"The Minister's office should have been on top of this, they should have made sure there were no mistakes in this case," he said.

The next hearing on 3 October will be to discuss arguments for and against keeping the trial in Christchurch.