21 Jan 2017

Police chief backs officers over Melbourne incident

7:28 pm on 21 January 2017

Victoria's chief of police has defended the force's handling of a car pursuit which ended with a man driving into a Melbourne mall yesterday, killing four people and injuring 30 others.

Australian SWAT police are seen on Bourke Street after a car ploughed into pedestrians in the centre of Melbourne on 20 January, 2017.

Australian SWAT police are seen on Bourke Street after a car ploughed into pedestrians in the centre of Melbourne on 20 January, 2017. Photo: AFP

Police arrested a suspect, 26-year-old Dimitrious Gargasoulas, after ramming the car and shooting him in the arm on Bourke Street yesterday afternoon.

He remains under police guard in hospital, and police are hoping to interview and charge him over the weekend.

Police have been criticised for not doing more to stop the driver earlier.

They had received reports of two men fighting in Windsor at 2:15am. Police said one of the men was the suspect in the incident in the CBD and he had left before they arrived at the scene.

Police later pursued the suspect in the Melbourne CBD incident on the other side of the city, in Yarraville, before pulling back for safety reasons while the air wing monitored the situation as vehicle travelled towards the city.

The driver was later seen doing burnouts outside Flinders Street Station before finally driving through Bourke Street Mall after 1:30pm.

Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said he was "rock solid" behind the decisions police made while trying to apprehend the driver.

"I am satisfied from my perspective - I emphasise my perspective - all decisions that our officers made were in the interests of trying to provide community safety. I am confident in that."

"We did make a number of attempts to arrest that driver yesterday, both through the southern and inner western suburbs.

"When we do pursuits, calls are made by both the officers doing the pursuit and the pursuit controller about whether to continue pursuits based on the behaviour - largely on the behaviour - of the driver."

Bruce McKenzie from the Police Association said pursuits should be left to officers to use their own judgement when deciding whether or not to give chase.

In 2015 Victorian police officers became subject to new restrictions on conducting pursuits following 13 deaths in five years.

The new rules sparked outrage from the Police Association and its members, and were refined mid last year, but police refused to publicly release the rules so as not to "educate the criminals".

A car has hit pedestrians in the centre of Melbourne, killing at least one person, Australian emergency services say.

A car has hit pedestrians in the centre of Melbourne, killing at least one person, Australian emergency services say. Photo: Twitter / @TommyBick

Police, health and justice system to be examined

Victorian Coroner Justice Sara Hinchey has taken charge of the investigation into the deaths in Melbourne's CBD, and will probe a number of issues, including the police handling of the incident.

Chief Commissioner Ashton said he understood people would speculate on how things could have been done differently after the fact.

"But my police were on the spot, my police were the ones having to make the decisions - life and death decisions in moments and seconds," he said.

"Every one of those decisions, from my perspective, was made given what's the best way to try to prevent the loss of human life here and, tragically, we have lost at least four people in this particular incident.

"What we don't know is what has been prevented, what death has been prevented through the actions of the police."

Police officers who were involved in the chase gave first aid and have been involved in the subsequent investigation have been provided with support, the chief commissioner said, after a traumatising day.

Justice system to come under spotlight

Victoria's justice system will also come under the spotlight as part of the review into the incident, as the suspect had a violent criminal history and was "well-known" to police.

He was charged with a crime on 14 January and was granted bail by an after-hours bail justice, despite police opposition to the appeal.

Bail justices in Victoria are trained volunteers and are only required to be Australian citizens and not insolvent.

Chief Commissioner Ashton said the coroner would also have his support conducting a "forensic investigation" of other issues which may have affected the case, including mental health and drug abuse.

Police in Melbourne have arrested a man after a car hit pedestrians in the city centre, killing three people and injuring at least 20.

A car hit pedestrians in Melbourne, killing three people and injuring at least 20. Photo: Twitter / @danielbowen

The state's parole system was overhauled in recent years, in response to the 2012 murder of Jill Meagher at the hands of Adrian Bayley, who had a long history of sexual violence and had been released on parole.

In recent months, rules governing offenders released on bail has also come under scrutiny in Victoria, following a number of violent crimes committed by young people awaiting court hearings.

"Police officers are particularly outraged by the notion that people seem to be routinely released on bail to commit further serious offences," Mr McKenzie said.

"That's something we'll discuss with the Victorian government in the days and weeks ahead."

Opposition Leader Matthew Guy offered to work with the government to reform the bail system following the disaster.

"The bail system in our state is broken, the bail system needs to be fundamentally reformed," he said.

"Today is not the day to talk about any individual or any other people involved in that system.

"We need to make sure the laws that are around us are protecting. The bail system as it stands is not protecting us, it's working against ordinary people.

"How this person could have been on the streets is beyond us, the police themselves tried to keep him behind bars."

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews promised to make changes to the system if the report called for them.

"I want to make it clear to all Victorians - we will make the changes necessary based on a proper review and a proper investigation of exactly what's gone on here," he said.

"We owe that to every single victim and all of those who will forever be changed by the evil crimes that occurred here yesterday."