Christchurch terror attack inquest: No police sent to Linwood Islamic Centre despite 111 call

8:04 pm on 26 October 2023
Al Noor Mosque

Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

A 111 call-taker was just days into the job when a parliamentary staffer called to alert police about the Christchurch terror attacker's manifesto, an inquest has heard.

The call-taker, who has name suppression, had completed six weeks of training and was on their "third or fourth shift" on 15 March 2019 where 51 people were killed during attacks on Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre by Brenton Tarrant.

A parliamentary staffer made the 111 call to police at 1.40pm, just one minute after receiving an email with the terrorist's manifesto, which had been forwarded by another staffer in the Prime Minister's Office.

The parliamentary staffer scanned the manifesto during the call and picked out information including the terrorist's name, age, weapon he was intending to use and location of the attack.

The staffer also told the call-taker that he thought the email had come from "just a nutter" and later said the more he read it, the more it appeared to be a "crank".

As the information from the parliamentary staffer started coming through, the call-taker alerted her supervisor who listened in on the call and helped her determine how best to deal with it.

Along with her supervisor's help, she catergorised the event as "NATSEC (national security) priority 2".

The call-taker said she chose NATSEC as the call had come from a parliamentary staffer. If it had come from anyone else, she said she may have labelled it as an intimidation/threats call.

Despite what the parliamentary staffer relayed to her in the phone call, the call-taker told the court there was nothing said during the call that would have made her think it was a higher priority call.

An inquest into the March 15th Terror attack is into its second day in the Christchurch District Court. Pictured: Anne Toohey representing Families/Victims. 25 October 2023 New Zealand Herald Photograph by George Heard

Lawyer for families Anne Toohey. Photo: Pool / George Heard

The call-taker said she had zoomed in on the Christchurch police station as the event's location as she did not have an exact address. Because it was zoomed in on this location, she could not see other events popping up on her screen which may have alerted her to other calls coming in about the attack on Al Noor Mosque.

She said she was not aware the attack was underway until she was off the call with the parliamentary staffer, and taken off of the phones due to her junior status.

If such an event happened today, the call-taker told the court she would label it as a priority 1 event.

Training had been "ramped up" around hate crime since the attack now that such an event was "something that is real in New Zealand".

In response to lawyer Anne Toohey, the call-taker said it was possible that how she handled the phone call may have been different, had she known the shooting at Al Noor Mosque was underway.

An inquest into the March 15th Terror attack is into its second day in the Christchurch District Court. Pictured: Inspector Ian Harris from the New Zealand Police. 25 October 2023 New Zealand Herald Photograph by George Heard

Inspector Ian Harris. Photo: George Heard

Police not immediately sent to Linwood Islamic Centre following 111 call

Earlier on Thursday, the inquest heard that police were not immediately sent to Christchurch's Linwood Islamic Centre on the day of the terror attack, despite being told the mosque was a potential target during the emergency call.

Inspector Ian Harris, the national operations manager for the police communication centres at the time of the attack, denied a lack of action by police under cross-examination by counsel assisting the coroner, David Boldt.

An inquest into the March 15th Terror attack is into its second day in the Christchurch District Court. Pictured: David Boldt - counsel assisting the coroner.
25 October 2023 New Zealand Herald Photograph by George Heard

Counsel assisting the coroner David Boldt. Photo: Pool / George Heard

Boldt questioned Harris about how seriously the parliamentary staffer's call was treated by police, and said it was "even worse" if they believed the threat was genuine and still did not take action.

Harris said: "Again, I think there will be other evidence that will say that there was action taken".

Boldt said: "But it didn't involve sending police to the Linwood Islamic Centre to protect the people from the terrorist, who you had been informed was going there".

"Unfortunately no," Harris replied.

Boldt continued: "So it might have generated some internal action within south comms but it didn't generate any action that was of any use to the worshippers at the Islamic centre".

Harris replied: "It certainly didn't prevent the terrible atrocities that occurred there but there was action that was taken".

Boldt read out some evidence from experts to Harris, which will be further discussed later in the inquest, who concluded that the call had been mislabelled as a priority 2 call when it should have been priority 1.

Harris said he respected the expertise but disagreed the call was mislabelled.

In hindsight, he said it "absolutely" should have been upgraded to a priority 1 call but the fact that it was not was "not necessarily a mistake".

On Wednesday, Harris told the court some "significant" changes had been made to the way police communication centres worked - and it was partly because of the terrorist attack.

Any NATSEC event was to now be entered as a priority 1 and there had been "significant" training and upskilling about hate crime.

The inquest will examine the following 10 issues over the next six weeks:

  • The events of 15 March 2019 from the commencement of the attack until the terrorist's formal interview by police
  • The response times and entry processes of police and ambulance officers at each mosque
  • The triage and medical response at each mosque
  • The steps that were taken to apprehend the offender
  • The role of, and processes undertaken by, Christchurch Hospital in responding to the attack
  • Co-ordination between emergency services and first responders
  • Whether the terrorist had any direct assistance from any other person on 15 March 2019
  • If raised by immediate family, and to the extent it can be ascertained, the final movements and time of death for each of the deceased
  • The cause of death for each of the victims and whether any deaths could have been avoided
  • Whether Al Noor Mosque emergency exit door in the south-east corner of the main prayer room failed to function during the attack and, if so, why?

The inquest continues.

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