First officer at Sydney siege tried to calm hostages: inquest

The first police officer to arrive at Sydney’s Lindt Cafe during the siege tried to reassure distressed hostage Marcia Mikhael as she stood at the shop’s glass doors, an inquest has heard.

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Senior Constable Paul Withers was in Walsh Bay when he received a call at 9.45am on December 15, 2014 about the siege at Martin Place.

He was soon edging along the eastern wall in the cafe foyer, trying to communicate with Ms Mikhael from a position of cover, the inquest into the fatal siege heard on Wednesday.

“I pointed to my name badge,” he said, adding that he mouthed to Ms Mikhael that “it’ll be okay”.

Sen Const Withers said that when he arrived at the scene he saw two female hostages standing at the door with their hands above their heads.

He tried to calm them with some hand gestures and Ms Mikhael flicked her eyes in the direction of gunman Man Monis, quickly raising her finger to confirm there was one hostage taker.

“She was very upset, very distressed,” Sen Const Withers said.

He described seeing Monis pacing up and down the cafe, holding a shotgun and wearing a black backpack from which a thin wire was protruding.

“I believed it was a bomb,” he said.

After his initial reconnaissance of the situation, Sen Const Withers left the cafe to report back to senior officers.

He said he mouthed to Ms Mikhael that he would be back.

After putting on a bulletproof vest he returned but was then directed to leave for a second time.

“I didn’t want to leave them in there,” he said.

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He told the inquest he had “extreme concern” for the hostages.

Earlier on Wednesday, the inquest heard from Rosemary Birt, who arrived at the cafe to meet colleagues as the siege started to unfold.

She tried numerous times to open the locked doors, but upon seeing Monis pull a shotgun from a plastic bag she left the building and phoned police.

She was so scared she had trouble keying in the PIN and it took her about 30 seconds to unlock the phone, the inquest heard.

The inquest into the siege, which left hostages Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson and gunman Monis dead, continues.