Ms Sophie Callan, Counsel Assisting, Siege Inquest
by Mary W Maxwell, PhD, LLB
The court was open from 10am to 4pm – “open” meaning not in private closed court. However the six of us in the gallery were not able to see the witness box, in which sat the Police officer who led Charlie Team in the assault of the café at 2.13am. We could see, on a screen, Miss Callan, the Counsel Assisting, and hear her very sensible questioning, and the witness’s replies.
Note: I have learned that the media are in another room, although that room may be empty. Any reporter there can see only what we galleristas can see, on a screen.
Dennis Albrecht — So To Speak
Today’s witness has the Inquest code name “Delta Alpha.” I will – capriciously — translate that to “Dennis Albrecht,” as the word “alpha” also comes up frequently today meaning other things.
For instance, one of the assault teams is called Alpha Team. That team was standing at the nearby Jordan Library when the call came to rush the Café. It was their men that fired all the shots including a shot of Monis that removed “a large part of the left side of his head” — according to Dennis Albrecht.
I managed to transcribe every word today, but will not type it all up (unless required to do so). Instead I will choose what I think were the most significant bits. I am a little worried that the questions may have been aimed at showing that the ADF would have been a better handler of the crisis.
That was not a theme that I picked up, yet I have just read the entire Yahoo.com.au article on today’s hearing (July 11) and that is what they emphasized.
In the morning, the questions were about what occurred on the siege day afternoon (say, up to 5pm). Our man, Dennis, was made leader of the Charlie Team. He spent the time going around to his “guys” to keep them informed and to pick up information from them.
He also frequently traveled (not very far) to the Forward Command Post that got set up in the Leagues Club, after they had first occupied a police bus.
Who Decided When To End the Siege?
The most interesting point of the morning session seemed to be Dennis’s revelation that there was someone higher than the Commander, a Canberra person who had to be obeyed. (Well, that’s most interesting to me anyway.)
Ms Callan focused on Dennis’s understanding of what would warrant a forcible entry to the Café. (Note: the Café is referred to in the Inquest as “the stronghold” and Monis is referred to as “the terrorist.” I will say Café and Monis.)
She specifically asked him What are the Standard Triggers to end a hostage siege? He said “the death or serious injury of a hostage are well established as the standard triggers.” Then she extracted from Dennis that he had heard early in the day that the Tactical Commander (TC) and Deputy TC told him that these would not be triggers for this siege.
Ms Callan pumped Dennis as to “What were your thoughts on that oddity?” He kept coming back with generalities such as “It differs from how we learned it in training.” Dennis diplomatically stated: “I had complete faith that the Commander would do whatever was necessary to save the lives of the hostages.”
In short we never got to hear this team leader say “Naturally I was pissed off that they were changing the rules.” Or “How dare they use us in a situation that did not accord with all our training!” (Note: I am unfairly dropping those remarks into this reporting, but it did seem to me that they were there, unspoken.)
The Video of the Entry through the Red Door
Several times in today’s afternoon session, Ms Callan (who is part of the Inquest staff) and Mr Michael O’Connell, QC (who represents the Dawson family) asked Dennis to compare what his narrative is today with what he said at an investigatory “walk through” of the crime scene that took place on January 6, 2015.
Dennis several times admitted that his recollection today is colored at least a little bit by reports in the press, and also by having seen, in this courtroom, a replay of the storming of the stronghold.
Galleristas, too, got to see this video. I believe it was described as coming from Channel Seven’s camera, yet it appears to have existed in the ceiling of the “fire well.” I am referring to the area between the fire doors and the red door. A ‘red’ door need not be of rouge hue; rather each of the four walls of the café is given a color code.
I assume the terms used (white wall, red wall, green wall, black wall) are standard for describing a crime scene. In our case the famous front side of the Lindt Café that faces onto Martin Place is called the white wall.
The two points of entry after 2am were through the white door (for Alpha Team) and through the red door, for Team Charlie as led by “Dennis Albrecht.”
Note: at one point in open court the witness, Dennis, inadvertently uttered an officer’s real surname. The police lawyer objected and the judge then made an immediate order for non-publication of the name.
The Termination of the Siege
Back to the subject of Standard Triggers. Despite Ms Callan asking Dennis several times what the triggers were going to be, for that day, he could not come up with anything. She also unsuccessfully tried to see what he, Dennis, had said to his TC or Deputy TC about this.
Nonetheless, a moment did arrive when the decision was made to storm the Café. It seems to have occurred after the last batch of hostages escaped around 2am (about 6 of them; there were 5 earlier ones; this left 7 more in situ, plus Monis). A shot was fired by the terrorist as they left.
Dennis noted that the shot demonstrated two things: One, that Monis had a functioning firearm, and Two that he had shot way above their heads into the glass panel, apparently not trying to kill anyone.
At this point Dennis was asked if he ever saw Tori Johnson kneeling down (to be killed by Monis) as has been stated by at least one hostage. Dennis said No. Granted, Dennis came onto the scene after that could have occurred.
When Dennis entered the café he saw something that made him think “I must kill the terrorist.” But he cannot recall what it was. He cannot say for sure that he saw Monis holding a gun.
(By the way, FWIW, we in the gallery could not see body language, but I took Dennis to be an honest bloke from his tone of voice. His honesty is also conveyed to me when he makes a long pause, not wanting to answer some particular question.)
A Woman Is Not a Pillar
Dennis described his first visual cognizance of the café as being in total darkness. He saw right in front of him what he thought was a pillar but then he used the torch on his gun to view the ‘pillar’ and saw that it was a woman dressed in black. (I believe this is hostage Laura Hope who was sitting in the gallery today and who got a good chuckle from that.)
He told her “Get down, get down” but she did not move so he went around her. He saw Monis standing in back of her but facing the other way. The judge interjected a question How much distance between you and the woman? Answer: “Less than a meter.” How much distance between the woman and Monis? “Very close.”
Dennis got down on one knee to get out of the line of fire between Alpha Team and himself. But then it was all over. He used his torch to look at Monis – he saw that Monis had fallen to the ground and was obviously deceased. Dennis called out “Cease fire, cease fire, cease fire.’ The lights then went on. (Ms Callan did not ask who turned them on.)
The Christmas Lights
Speaking of lights, I think I noticed a discrepancy in today’s testimony that the Inquest staff did not catch. (By the way, Ms Callan is extremely on-the-ball and so far my sense is that she is honest and impartial.)
You may recall that the Police Negotiator, testifying in June, said he had not got word of Selina Win Pe’s phone calls – which she had made at 9.30pm to the 000 emergency line and also to a special line. The gist of that day’s hearing was that Selina felt it was very dangerous not to cooperate with Monis.
Today, Dennis related that his guys were unhappy with the way the flickering Christmas lights in Martin Place hampered their vision, as did the traffic lights. They wanted them turned off. When he told his superiors about the man’s request he was advised that the lights could become a matter for negotiation.
I think I heard Dennis say he was unaware of Monis’s demand to have the lights turned out! But in the Negotiator’s testimony it was admitted that by 12.30am the negotiators were aware of Monis’s demand. So why does Dennis not take an interest in the oddity? I do not know.
To Wear Ear Protection or Not
A new matter was brought up at the end of the day, by Mr O’Connell, on behalf of Katrina’s Dawson’s family. He suggested that the Charlie team that entered the red door had first heard many moments of flashbangs (perhaps 21 seconds’ worth; this was disputed by the police lawyer).
These came from an SF-9 that is very loud and can affect a person’s hearing or even throw his balance off. Team leader Dennis Albrecht (that is, today’s police witness code-named ‘DA’) said he chose not to wear ear-protection and made it optional for his men to use it.
(I wonder, if they had earplugs how would they be able to hear the important message “Cease fire, cease fire”?)
For now I’ll summarize the main “problem” raised in the coroner’s court on this day, July 11. Police officer and team leader Dennis was not given updated instructions throughout the day as to what the latest plans were for ending the siege, and he was specifically told that the Standard Triggers were not in effect. The standard triggers for ending a siege are: the death or serious injury of a hostage.
I forgot to mention that “Dennis” said this: When the first three male hostages escaped (around 3.30pm) they were taken to the Leagues Club to be debriefed. They stated that Monis was a serious threat and that he did intend to kill hostages.
— Mary Maxwell, despite all evidence to the contrary, does not like sleuthing. She does not want to study murders. Still if they are thrown in her lap she deals with them. Please read about several amazing murder cases in her book Fraud Upon the Court.
Photo credit: nswbar.asn.au