Ex-cop ‘vindicated’ as senior officer admits Bourke St criticism may have been wrong
The then-sergeant made repeated calls to the Critical Incident Response Team to help “box-in” and arrest the violent offender but was repeatedly knocked back as Gargasoulas’ behaviour at the time didn’t fit their “criteria”.
Hours later Gargasoulas drove into the CBD and killed six people.
Mr Caridi was one of the first officers to identify failures by Victoria Police on the morning of the massacre.
In Mr Fontana’s stinging 496-page review he made several criticisms of Mr Caridi’s actions on the day, including that he failed to formulate an arrest plan and was unsure who was in charge of the hunt for Gargasoulas after he stabbed his brother.
On Friday, Mr Caridi’s lawyer Dr Kristine Hanscombe QC repeatedly asked Mr Fontana what he had based his claims on. He was later forced to admit it was “pretty potent criticism”.
“Where did you get that from? This is you making an assertion. This is a piece of unsourced hearsay?” Dr Hanscombe said.
“Possibly,” Mr Fontana replied. “I can’t recall where that information came from. I’m happy to have it corrected.
Dr Hanscombe also suggested those who attended voluntary debriefing sessions with the report’s author were never told their “therapeutic ventilation” could be used to criticise colleagues in Mr Fontana’s final critical incident report, which was designed to identify failings and opportunities for change.
In August last year Mr Caridi refused to accept a police citation awarded for his service during the incident. It arrived a month after he contacted the coroner requesting to give evidence about the attack. He had not been interviewed as part of Mr Fontana’s review.
Outside court Mr Caridi said he finally felt vindicated by Mr Fontana’s concessions.
“There is a toxic culture at Victoria Police and when you speak up about the brotherhood you’re targeted. This is what happened to me,” Mr Caridi said.
“All I ever wanted was to make sure the truth came out so errors could be identified and fixed something like this never happens again.”
The bombshell revelations came during Mr Fontana’s final day of evidence and 28th day of the coronial inquest into the Bourke Street tragedy.
Despite conceding to the possibility of errors in his report, Mr Fontana maintained Mr Caridi should have assigned another officer to follow the “pinging” of Gargasoulas’ mobile phone when he returned to his South Melbourne office. This, he said, was a mistake.
“Mr Caridi returned to the office at 5am at the time the pings were continuing. He said just pass them on,” Mr Fontana said.
“It was just left hanging.”
Mr Caridi was also familiar with Gargasoulas and his capacity for reckless behaviour that had the potential to endanger the public when he was behind the wheel.
Following the tragedy, Mr Fontana spent 12 months compiling a review into the force’s actions, which was made public this week despite the objections of police lawyers.
Coroner Jacqui Hawkins commended the assistant commissioner on his report and said it demonstrated the importance for Victoria Police to reflect.
The inquest continues.
Erin covers crime for The Age. Most recently she was a police reporter at the Geelong Advertiser.