Charging into the Lindt cafe to take down armed madman Man Haron Monis would not have ended like a Hollywood movie and would likely have left hostages dead, an inquest has heard.
The police response to the December 15, 2014 siege has been the focus of the latest round of hearings at the NSW coronial inquest, with the first high-ranking officer to take command of the scene grilled for a day-and-a-half about initial actions.
Assistant Commissioner Michael Fuller took charge at 9.50am, as the 17-hour incident was beginning.
At this time, scant details were known about what was happening inside the old bank on Martin Place, with no indication the gun Monis had was real or fake and the possibility of a bomb in his backpack.
Given how little was known, the best course of action was “contain and negotiate,” Mr Fuller has told the inquiry.
Under this approach the focus was on gathering information and liaising with Monis, and police would have to be convinced there was the imminent or immediate threat of death or serious injury to have stormed the building.
Sending in armed officers would not likely have ended well and would not have been like a Hollywood movie in which Monis was shot between the eyes and all lives were saved, Mr Fuller said.
“My fear was any action, deliberate action, would certainly have caused a loss of life and I’m not talking about the perpetrator,” he said.
But, when officers stormed the cafe after Monis had killed manager Tori Johnson, Mr Fuller’s fears were fulfilled when mother-of-three Katrina Dawson died after being hit by shrapnel from police rounds.
Before Monis had shot Johnson, Mr Fuller said not enough was known to order a forceful response even after a warning shot had been fired, contradicting UK terror experts.
A report prepared for the coroner by British counter-terrorism experts stated police should have immediately entered the building after Monis first fired his shotgun, at 2.03am.
Ten minutes and 37 seconds later, Monis forced Mr Johnson to his knees and executed him with a point-blank shot to the head.
Mr Fuller disagrees with the UK report, saying community expectations in that country were different and led to different police orders and responses to armed sieges.
“Strong action by police after a warning shot would likely cause someone’s death,” he said.
Under Mr Fuller’s command, snipers moved into place and negotiators were brought in.
But he has told the inquest a plan to smash the bullet-proof glass to provide a clear shot for the snipers, was too risky to be considered.
“It gave the target time to move,” he said.
The siege reached its deadly conclusion after Monis’ execution of Mr Johnson caused police to storm the building.
Monis was gunned down, while Ms Dawson also died.
The inquest continues before NSW Coroner Michael Barnes.