news

Sydney siege inquest: Gunman told Katrina Dawson and two other hostages they could leave at start of ordeal.

By Jayne Margetts

The woman who was shot when police stormed the Lindt cafe at the end of a 17-hour siege was told by the gunman she could leave as the ordeal began to unfold, an inquest has heard.

A survivor of the Sydney siege, Barrister Stefan Balafoutis has told a coronial inquest that he, Katrina Dawson and a third hostage were initially told by Man Haron Monis they could leave.

Mr Balafoutis told the inquest he had spoken to Katrina Dawson on the phone and had arranged to meet her and another friend, Julie Taylor, at the Lindt Cafe on the day of the siege.

He said shortly after they arrived: “I heard the person I now know to be Monis say something about a bomb”.

Mr Balafoutis said they were told to take out their identification and place them on the table.

Moments later the gunman told them they could go.

“It appeared he was talking to Katrina and Julie, and she said, ‘can he go with us?’ And he said ‘Yes’,” Mr Balafoutis said.

He said the three of them stood up and started walking to the main doors.

“I do remember that we all stopped at different places … I assume that he must have told us to stop in those locations,” he said.

The court heard cafe manager Tori Johnson told them to hit the green button.

“I was just waiting for something to happen. But it simply never happened, ” said Mr Balafoutis.

The witness told the inquest Man Haron Monis then began asking the hostages to call the media.

Mr Balafoutis said Monis refused to called him by name, but instead referred to him as “white shirt”.

He said he formed the view that he was unlikely to be one of the hostages who was released.

“If Monis was to shoot someone there was a high chance it would be me,” he said.

Mr Balafoutis said on several occasions Monis told him he had lost points because he opened his eyes.

He told the inquest that Monis said, “I told you not to open your eyes. You have lost points. You can gain points or you can lose points. You have lost points.”

Mr Balafoutis said he decided to escape when he saw another, hostage, 83-year-old John O’Brien, hit the green button.

“The doors opened and at that point I ran, ” he said.

Gunman used hostage ‘as a shield’

Earlier, another survivor of the Sydney siege recounted her ordeal, telling the inquest that the gunman used her to shield himself as he moved around the Lindt cafe.

ADVERTISEMENT

Fiona Ma was an employee and 19 years old at the time when the 17-hour siege took place in December 2014.

She was one of 18 hostages held by gunman Man Haron Monis.

The final stage of the inquest, which has been described by the coroner as one of the most complex in Australia with implications for national security, is looking at what happened during the siege itself and the police response to it.

Ms Ma told the inquest she had been instructed by Monis to start stacking boxes against the fire exit.

“Then we heard a glass shatter outside,” she said.

Ms Ma said she was scared as she heard a shot fired and crouched down at the chocolatier station.

“He fired the gun then he was reloading. I thought if he’s reloading now I can run out now,” she said.

Ms Ma told the inquest that she “crouch-ran to the main entrance”.

“I pressed the green button,” she added.

She broke down in tears as she explained how she ran into the police on Philip Street, believing she and one of the other hostages may have been the only ones left inside the cafe.

The cafe worker told the coronial inquest that during her time inside the cafe, Monis pointed a gun at her back and “he used me as a shield to move around the cafe”.

Ms Ma said Monis was “unpredictably aggressive”.

She said he did not keep a headcount. “He was very disorganised… he would ask for our IDs but wouldn’t check.

“He was getting increasingly agitated throughout the night because his demands weren’t being met.”

Ms Ma said at one point she was instructed by the gunman to put a piece of paper up at the window, which said: “Leave or he will kill us all”.

It was then that she heard police outside saying: “This guy is f***ing crazy”.

On Wednesday, the inquest heard from another employee at the time, Jarrod Morton-Hoffman, 19, who described the terrifying moment he and five other hostages fled the cafe.

The coroner started hearing evidence in May 2015 and is expected to hand down his findings later this year.

More hostages are expected to give evidence this week and next week.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

© 2016 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved. Read the ABC Disclaimer here.

00:00 / ???