VICTORIA’S most senior police officer has conceded officers failed to stop the rampaging car driver before he reached Bourke St Mall and drove into dozens of people.
The action, or inaction, of police in the hours leading up to the carnage in central Melbourne will be examined by the coroner, Police Commissioner Graham Ashton said, as a question mark hangs over whether the tragedy could have been prevented.
Four people were killed and dozens injured after 26-year-old Dimitrious “Jimmy” Gargasoulas allegedly drove his Commodore into packed city streets. Several of the injured, including a three-month old baby, are still fighting for their lives.
At a media conference in Melbourne on Saturday Mr Ashton and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews faced a barrage of questions about police involvement with Gargasoulas.
“The coroner will, I can assure you, do a forensic examination of the whole issue, right around police endeavours to catch this particular criminal, [and] the role of the justice system involved in previous dealings with the criminal. The issues around mental health, issues around drug abuse, they will be dealt be by the coroner in forensic detail.”
Mr Ashton said he was “rock solid” behind the decisions his officers made. “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.”
He welcomed the coronial inquiry if it led to an improvement in the way police served the community.
Mr Ashton said it was only natural people would speculate about what happened.
“If I was there I would have done this, if I was there I would have done that… You understand that’s the perfectly natural part of the process. 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. 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 was unclear was the number of deaths were prevented by the actions of police.
“That will always be unknown. These are always speculative issues. I can certainly reassure the community that those decisions of my officers yesterday were certainly made with a view to public safety in mind.”
He confirmed there were opportunities to “intercept” but each time it “wasn’t possible to do that”.
Police had chased the accused driver, Gargasoulas, through the city but stopped as they neared the CBD because of safety fears.
Asked specifically about when Gargasoulas was outside Flinders St Station — and the options police had to stop him — Mr Ashton said it wasn’t as easy as it looked.
“Well, at that time there were officers endeavouring to close in terms of vehicles. If you were trying to run out into the street and stop that car, it might look easy on TV to do that, but the practicalities of that are different, particularly when you have a lot of pedestrians around … a lot of risk of harm. The best option at that time — officers were considering — around a vehicle
interception. That is what was trying to be executed.”
Premier Daniel Andrews said there needed to be answers. “ … we want someone to explain what has again on. At this stage, we all need to come together and show our support for victims and family and for everybody who was caught up in this terrible, evil criminal act.”
Asked if it was in fact the state government that should have the answers, he replied:
“The point I’m making is that each of us, myself included, feel a sense of anger today and are searching for answers. No doubt about that. That is a natural human emotion. Felt by all of us. I want to make it clear to every single Victorian that we will leave nothing to chance when it comes to understanding exactly what has gone on here. We owe it to each of those who have lost their lives, and those Victorians who will never be the same again because of what occurred here yesterday.”