Bourke St tragedy: Victorian coroner puts off inquest

Thursday 20 July 2017
Isabelle McCombe and Michael Lombard

Originally published by The ABC

An inquest into the deaths of six people in the Bourke Street tragedy in Melbourne’s CBD has heard tragic details about the deaths of six people, before being postponed to protect the accused driver’s right to a fair trial.

Four adults, a child and a baby died after James “Dimitrious” Gargasoulas allegedly ploughed his car through the busy pedestrian mall on January 20.

Judge Sara Hinchey is investigating several matters relating to the attack, including the granting of bail to Gargasoulas less than a week earlier by an after-hours bail justice.

Counsel assisting the coroner, Mandy Fox QC, said the mall was busy with pedestrians when the car was driven through it.

For many city workers, it was lunchtime and it was also the school holiday period,” she said.

“He drove along under the awnings near the shopfronts in the pedestrian-only area of the mall.

“A pedestrian was struck and injured almost instantly — and other pedestrians were also hit.”

Ms Fox told the court:

  • Yosuke Kanno, a 25-year-old Japanese student who was studying in Australia, was hit and killed near the Block Arcade within moments of the car being driven in the pedestrian-only area.
  • Bhavita Patel, 33, was hit near the intersection of Elizabeth St at the west end of the mall, and died in hospital 10 days later.
  • Jess Mudie, 22, had come down from Sydney for work. She was walking with colleagues when she was fatally struck.
  • Moments later, near the intersection with McKillop St, 33-year-old Matthew Si was hit. He died in hospital that afternoon.
  • Thalia Hakin, 10, was struck while on her way to a concert at the nearby RACV Club with her mother and 12-year-old sister. Thalia was killed almost instantly, and her sister and mother were injured.
  • Nearby, Zara and Zachary Matthew Bryant were being pushed along in a pram, which was hit by the car, throwing Zachary onto the pavement. The three-month-old boy was rushed to hospital by police, but died the next day.

Ms Fox said 27 people were injured, and 25 of those were hospitalised.

“Many are still receiving treatment for their injuries,” she said.

Ms Fox said the car slowed, almost to a stop, a short distance west of William St.

“It is understood that the fuel line to the engine had failed,” Ms Fox said.

“Police members approached and two shots were fired at Mr Gargasoulas while he was still in the car. Tasers were deployed also.

“As a result, Mr Gargasoulas was injured and immediately taken into custody.”

Gargasoulas, 26, was charged with six counts of murder and 27 counts of attempted murder.

Ms Fox said the legal team was “acutely aware” of the intense public interest in the inquest, but recommended it be put off until the charges were dealt with.

“There is a very significant public interest in having all matters investigated in an open, fair, complete and timely manner,” Ms Fox said.

“There is also, however, a fundamental public interest in ensuring the criminal justice process is not compromised,” Ms Fox said.

“In our opinion, it is not possible to proceed with the inquest or any discreet area of inquiry within the inquest without creating an unacceptable risk of compromising the criminal proceedings and the rights of the accused to a fair trial.”

Pedestrians ‘scrambled’ in Swanston St

The inquest heard Gargasoulas had allegedly been involved in an incident in Windsor, in Melbourne’s south-east, in the early hours of the morning of the Bourke St attack.

Police then spent hours trying to find and arrest him.

Gargasoulas had been released on bail six days earlier, at an out-of-sessions court hearing at the St Kilda Police Station, the court heard.

The inquest was told he was due to face court on the day of the attack.

Instead, he drove into the city from nearby South Melbourne shortly before 1:30pm.

The court was told he turned from Clarendon St into Flinders St and drove along tram tracks before reaching the intersection of Flinders and Swanston streets.

Gargasoulas then drove in circles around the intersection.

“At various stages, he accelerated and braked heavily,” Ms Fox said.

“He leant out from the driver’s window and shouted repeatedly. Scores of people were present nearby.”

The court was told he then drove up Swanston St towards Bourke St, at one point veering onto the footpath.

“Many pedestrians were walking along the footpath between Little Collins St and Bourke St and had to scramble out of the way, but no-one was struck or injured,” Ms Fox said.

Coroner to look at police actions, pursuit guidelines

The inquest is set to examine several issues around how Victoria Police handled the incident and the their dealings with Gargasoulas.

It is expected to investigate what information Victoria Police had on Gargasoulas’s conduct before the rampage and in the days leading up to it.

The coroner will also look at the interaction between police and Gargasoulas on the day of the tragedy, and the assessments and planning undertaken as a result of the information they had.

There will also be examination of Victoria Police’s pursuit guidelines, and whether they were applied, and the communications between police on the day.

The hearing that led to Gargasoulas’s release on bail six days before the rampage will also be investigated.

Gargasoulas’s criminal case will return to the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on August 1.

Adviceline Injury Lawyers, which is representing the families of Zachary and Ms Mudie, said they were grateful that a thorough inquest was being held.

“Both families hope that the inquest will prevent anything similar ever happening again,” lawyer Naty Guerrero-Diaz said.

The inquest will resume on a date to be fixed.

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