Christchurch terror attack report: 'People need to be accountable'

8:25 pm on 29 November 2020

A coroner's inquest into the Christchurch mosque attacks is needed to deliver sorely needed public accountability, says the Islamic Women's Council.

Anjum Rahman, Assistant  Co-ordinator of the Islamic Women's Council

Photo: RNZ / Luke McPake

The final report from a long Royal Commission of Inquiry into the events leading up to the March 2019 murder of 51 people by convicted terrorist Brenton Harrison Tarrant was delivered to government this week.

But it has no teeth and doesn't provide the answers the country needs about how the attack was able to happen, says Anjum Rahman, spokesperson for the Islamic Women's Council.

The inquiry, which took 18 months, included more than 400 meetings and 73,500 pages of submissions and evidence. But wide-ranging suppression orders prevent publication of submissions from current or former government ministers and the heads of public-sector agencies, for 30 years.

Publication is completely banned for all other submissions and evidence.

The report makes recommendations to government, and has been written by the commissioners with a view to full public release, but the prime minister has the final say on what's released and when. It's expected what is allowed to publicly see the light of day will be released by the end of the year.

However, Rahman said the suppressions would not allow the public a clear view of any opportunities to stop the attack that may have been missed, and by who. She hoped those burning questions could still be answered, and said the most likely way was through a coroner's inquest.

"There is this stage that needs to happen, whereby people who are negligent or incompetent, or failed to do things that they should have been doing - those people need to be accountable for their actions, whether they're presently in those positions or whether they've now moved on," she said.

"The Royal Commission is now disbanded, it has no powers, it has no authority, and the most that it can do is recommend. We do believe a coroner's inquiry would be able to provide a mechanism to ensure accountability.

"I would hope that the coroner and the coroner's office could make an assessment and make a decision as to whether they proceed or not; we would request that they seriously consider the matter. They can do what the Royal Commission cannot."

Among the many gaps left unaddressed are questions about the terrorist's firearms license, and a complaint by a former soldier, who says police were dismissive when he reported a dangerous culture and 'homicidal fantasies' at the Dunedin gun club the mosque attacker was a member of.

photo of documents

Islamic Women Council's submission to the Royal Commission. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

Rahman said suppression of the interview the commission held with the terrorist himself was particularly important, and could answer some of the glaring questions about his unconscionable actions.

The commission has said those providing information to the inquiry were told the process was private, to encourage full disclosure, which could help the government learn from the attacks. Some of the information may be provided by sensitive security sources, and there are fears some could be used by other would-be attackers.

Rahman emphasised these matters were important to the council too.

"We don't want to put our national security at risk, and we totally understand that, we're not saying that all of that information has to be put in the public sphere so that everyone can see it, particularly if there is some sensitive information that could put the country at risk by releasing it.

"But there are mechanisms to go through that stuff and to review it - that can make those assessments and those findings, there's mechanisms like a coroner's inquest.

"And I think people who've given evidence and were in positions of making decisions will be well aware of their own actions or lack of actions, and I would hope that they wouldn't wait before accepting responsibility. I think the moral thing to do would be to accept responsibility where there have been failings."

A spokesperson from the Department of Internal Affairs, where the commission's report was handed over earlier this week, said commenting before the findings were tabled with parliament next month would be inappropriate.

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