by Mary W Maxwell
Mal Hughes has called attention to anomalies in the Inquest’s evidence as presented by Lucas Van der Walt, an expert on wound ballistics. I now have the melancholy duty of bringing up another anomaly, or to put it bluntly, an apparently suspicious episode that occurred during the Sydney siege.
In the Lindt Café there is a set of about 8 stairs leading up to the Ladies toilet and a different set of about 4 stairs leading down to the men’s toilet. I think I read about an airline hijacking some years ago where the people were kept in their seats for about two days while the plane sat on the tarmac.
So when I heard about the Sydney scenario I worried for the people involved. Later I read in the paper that the hostage taker, Man Haron Monis, had allowed hostages to drink tea, go to the toilet etc.
Much later, perhaps April of this year, there were more detailed stories of “life in the Lindt” on 15th December, 2014. For example we heard that Monis actually encouraged some hostages to use their cell phone to call home and to contact media as he wanted his message “out there.”
Also he had allowed ladies to go to the toilet. He chose two persons, Jarrod Morton-Hoffman and Fiona Ma – both staff of the Café, to escort hostages upstairs. They were to be his eyes and ears, I guess.
I am not quite sure how he thought this would make the person less likely to escape; I would have thought it gave the toilet-goer a chance to conspire with at least one other person – Fiona or Jarrod – about the possibilities for an ambush.
The ones who worked in the kitchen might have said Let’s put a sleeping pill in the terrorist’s coffee. (Or perhaps a laxative?).
Stairway to the Toilet
Anyway, when I first heard, ages ago, that the Lindt Café toilets were upstairs I thought back to a building where I once worked where the upstairs toilet was used by the adjoining tenant. I felt annoyed that the hostages hadn’t thought of escaping through that other tenant’s office upstairs, where the police would surely be ready to greet them.
In June, 2016, I started to attend the Inquest, at Goulburn St, Sydney. On a Sunday at 5pm, I marched up to Martin Place for a bite to eat (really to stickybeak, of course). Ordered the croque monsieur and then asked the waiter “Where is the ladies’ toilet?” “Over there ma’am, up those stairs.”
When I got to the top of the narrow staircase I could see that there was no connection to any other tenants’ offices. There was only a small loo, and across from it there was a double door. I could see through the slit between the two heavy doors that there were desks in there with junk on them.
I deduced that this was the room where employees kept their belongings during the day. (I may be wrong of course.)
Why Are You Taking So Long?
Today I read that Fiona Ma gave testimony at the Inquest on March 31, 2016 (“before my time”), and told how she and Jarrod had, together, escorted the elderly lady, Robyn Hope up to the toilet. All three of them went together.
Then Monis came up and banged on the door and said “Why are you taking so long?” I read about this testimony in news.com.au. The article said that Monis brought Selina Win Pe up the stairs with him as his human shield.
What I want to know is: How is it possible that Monis could go upstairs and leave many hostages unattended?
By this point in the siege I assume all hostages who were Café staff were cognizant of the easy-to-press green button that would let them out the main door. Staff would have also known how to get out via the French doors into the lift lobby, and how to get out the fire escape to Philip St.
So with Monis busy upstairs they all had their chance to run away – at least everyone other than the four who were upstairs: Robyn, Jarrod, Fiona, and Selina.
Nine Were Recklessly Abandoned by Monis
The question is: Who was on the main floor of the café at that time? If the toilet incident took place before 3.30pm, all 14 hostages would have been there. But Fiona mentioned that “lights” issue. For a summer evening this means Elly Chen and Jaien Bay were no longer there (they escaped at 4.30pm) and three guys has departed at 3.37pm: John O’Brien, Stefan Balafoutis, Paolo Vassalo.
So the persons over whom Monis should have been watching were:
staff members Tori Johnson, Harriet Denny, and Joel Herat – and customers Marcia Mikhael, Louisa Hope, Katrina Dawson, Puspendhu Ghosh, Viswakanth Ankireddy, and Julie Taylor.
Hence, 9 people were downstairs. Wow. Nine adults who could make the break from their terrible ordeal.
Once Monis was out of their sight (and he was out of their sight when he climbed the stairs) is there anything that would prevent them leaving? I think the instinct for life-preservation is very strong. I believe I would have made a dash for safety.
It may be that there is something missing in the testimony by Fiona that would have given me a different set of facts. But going only on what I have learned, there really was the possibility for escape.
By the way, the incident must have occurred before the famous 2.03am escape of six hostages. The fact that Jarrod was still on duty — upstairs – lets us know that the Big Six had not yet flown, as he is one of them.
Emotional Reasons To Stay?
I will grant that people who are panicked do strange things. It is, I suppose, conceivable that the 9 persons sat there stunned and did not run for the doors.
It is also possible that they had been given such a solemn threat by Monis that he would kill A if B escaped, that each fell duty bound not to run. (Some hostages have said this, in fact.)
Usually one personality emerges quickly in a group, and others start to look to that person for direction. Did this happen?
There were three barristers on the group – all of them in the habit of taking responsibility, sometimes huge responsibility, for their clients.
There was at least one café manager who had a sense of looking after younger staff: Tori Johnson.
All I am saying is that it was probably not up to each of the nine to decide in a lonely way what to do. I think they would have built up a bit of community during their ordeal. Four of the customers were workmates at Westpac (Selina, Marcia, Puspendhu and Viswakanth).
In one instance I read that Louisa Hope said she and her mother promised not to leave each other. This does not strike me as logical. I can see the young one staying to protect her elderly mum, but wouldn’t any mother have said Go! Go!
If there had been a married couple in the group I think it would also be illogical for them to say “I am not leaving unless I know you are safe.” I used to drill my husband along the lines of “If an attacker (a mugger) appears and starts to beat me up, don’t you dare get into the fray. Make a run for it.”
In fact I’ll say now that if I were in the Lindt with my dear George and I had a chance to escape, I’d have done so. Staying there out of love (and we were in love) would not be sensible.
I also think any pregnant woman in the group, or a parent who had an infant at home, would have been overwhelmed with concern to get out safely for the sake of the offspring. In females, that instinct is so strong that no amount of reasoning is likely to be able to counteract it.
Whom To Believe?
I find the story that Monis went up the stairs (rather than, say, yelling from the bottom of the stairs) to be implausible. He would be crazy to leave his prisoners unattended. He just wouldn’t do it. It would be curtains for him.
Here is the quote from news.com.au. I assume it is an accurate report of Fiona’s actual words:
“I went on a toilet trip with Jarrod (Morton-Hoffman) and Robyn (Hope), we were in there for a while and we heard a knock on door and it was Man Monis calling for me.
“I opened the door and he said ‘why is it taking so long?’. He called us out. I could see Selina (Win Pe) standing with him, he was holding onto her, I think he had the gun to her back. (Selina) wasn’t doing well. She was just crying and telling him not to shoot.
“We got Robyn out of the bathroom quickly and we sat her back down. He was still holding Selina (on his left) and then he told me to stand on the right side of him, and he told Jarrod to follow behind him to cover his back. He walked into (the) kitchen to see if anyone was there. Then he shoved us back into the cafe area.”
I’m like Huh?
So Where Am I Going with This?
On December 5, 2016 Gumshoe editor Dee McLachlan came out with an article that cast extreme doubt on the “good intentions” of police and political persons with regard to saving the hostages.
She demolished the claim that any negotiations had taken place or that genuine effort was made to disable Monis before he hurt anyone. She ended up calling the whole affair “theatre.”
A few days before that, I had also cast big doubt on the genuineness of the siege by showing that the police were in the Jordan library AND NO ONE AT THE INQUEST BOTHERED TO SAY THAT THE LIBRARY WAS IN KISSING DISTANCE OF THE HOSTAGES.
And, as mentioned, Mal Hughes had a go at another strange fact. He found, in testimony at the Inquest, that Monis was carrying in his pocket a bunch of used cartridges that seemed unrelated to his mission that day.
Mal, Dee, and myself are by no means rejoicing at our “scoops.” We are not pleased to play Agatha Christie. It is a depressing thought that the 2014 siege was a set-up.
It is also horrible – for me, anyway – to tell folks that something is amiss only to get a vacant stare, or a sarcastic put-down. I can handle put-downs but how can we make any inroads against the persons who do these “scripted terrorism” fandangles if we don’t agree that they happened?
I would like to debate someone on this. I would like to interview any of the hostages. Clearly if they feel I am offending them they should come out and challenge my reports. Or is there anyone who can blast my “logic” about the danger of Monis abandoning the watch over his sheep?
Come on, give me hell. Please. At least cast a vote in the Comments section: “Yes” (she has a point); “No” (Monis may well have gone upstairs) or “Would Mary please take her meds.”
Don’t just leave me here nattering away like an idiot.
— Mary W Maxwell did her PhD in Politics at Uni Adelaide.