Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Terrorist Attack on Christchurch Mosques

Background

The Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCOI) was instigated by the Prime Minister in response to the attacks on Christchurch Mosques on March 15, 2019.

The RCOI terms of reference were to investigate what State Sector agencies – including New Zealand Police – knew about the individual’s activities before the attack, measures agencies could have taken to prevent the attack, and measures agencies should take to prevent such attacks in the future.

The report, Ko tō tātou kāinga tēnei is a comprehensive response to the Royal Commission's Terms of Reference. The report was presented to the Governor-General on 26 November 2020. The Minister of Internal Affairs presented the report to Parliament on 8 December 2020.

Next steps

Police has accepted the findings of the Royal Commission and will thoroughly consider its recommendations before reporting back to government in early 2021. We will engage positively and openly with survivors, families and communities to ensure any decisions we make are well-informed.

Resources

Media conference opening remarks by Commissioner Andrew Coster

 

Thank you Prime Minister,

Firstly I want to acknowledge the affected whanau, survivors, witnesses and 51 people who lost their lives on March 15, 2019.  The callous brutality of the attacks that took place that day at the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre shocked New Zealanders to the core and brought worldwide condemnation.

We all struggled to make sense of how and why this terrible crime could have happened here.

When the Government instigated the Royal Commission of Inquiry, Police willingly participated.

The Commissioners asked some hard questions and we did our best to answer as honestly and openly as we could. Our intention was, and is, to ensure that if mistakes were made, we would learn from them.

We were also aware that there was much misinformation circulating in the community – including speculation about whether Police and other agencies missed opportunities to stop the attack.

In an exhaustive review of all the information available, the Commission found that that the only information that could or should have alerted us to the attack was the email sent to Parliamentary Service just eight minutes beforehand.

The Commission confirmed there was no failure in information-sharing between the relevant agencies.

However, there were other areas where the Commission found Police wanting.

The report points to failures in Police’s administration of the firearm licensing system. 

We accept that we didn’t have coherent and complete guidance material for the processing of applications where the applicant could not provide a near-relative referee able to be interviewed in person.

We accept that we did not put in place a systemic training and review package for firearms staff.

We accept that, in trying to assess whether the individual was fit and proper to hold a firearms licence, we could have done more to assess whether the two referees knew the individual well enough to serve as referees.

We unreservedly apologise that Police’s administration of the Arms Act has not always been at the level the public would reasonably expect. Whilst the Commission finds that this would not have necessarily stopped an attack, we understand that we need demonstrate to the public that we have learnt from this event and I am committed to ensuring that we give this work the priority that it deserves, and the public expects.

I can assure you that we have reflected on the support, processes, and guidance we give our staff working in this area. We have already started work to improve this, which includes new training and resources, a new quality assurance process, and an extra step in the approval process with a senior constabulary member of staff.

The Commission concluded that regulation of semi-automatic firearms was lax, open to exploitation and was gamed by the individual. Police was aware of legislative gaps in relation to semi-automatic firearms and had been working to address them prior to 15 March 2019.

The first legislative changes following the 15 March attacks addressed these loopholes by prohibiting and restricting access to semi-automatic firearms, magazines, and parts.

The Government’s subsequent reform of the firearms legislation has strengthened Police’s ability to ensure the safe use and control of arms in New Zealand.

There are some hard lessons for Police in the Commission’s report, but there are opportunities too: to improve, to be and do better.

Police is mindful of the fact that there has not been a criminal trial in this matter due to the guilty plea of the offender and that the report has only covered the period up to the beginning of the attack.

We’re aware that families of victims have a range of unanswered questions including around Police’s response.

In an attempt to help answer these questions, later today Police will be releasing our review of the response to the Christchurch Mosque attack.  We are also proactively preparing information to release to families of victims outlining what we can tell them about their loved ones. 

We will be running a process under the supervision of the coroner to endeavour to answer to the best of our ability the remaining questions that families may have about their loved ones.

Our vision is for New Zealand to be the safest country. We want our systems and processes to be the best they can be to keep our communities safe.

We have made significant improvements since the events of March 15, however we acknowledge we still have work to do.

Police will now thoroughly consider the report findings and the recommendations, supporting the Government to formulate it’s response.

We will engage positively and openly with victims, families and communities to ensure any decisions we make are well-informed. 

Thank you.