As thousands poured into Sydney’s Martin Place to farewell the innocent victims of a tragic hostage drama, questions were being asked about why the crazed gunman was on the streets.
Man Haron Monis, 50, who took 17 hostages in a cafe in Martin Place on Monday and who has a prior criminal conviction, was granted bail three times in the past 12 months.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott acknowledged the nation’s confusion, telling the media on Tuesday afternoon “these are questions we need to look at carefully and calmly and methodically”.
In December last year, the Iranian refugee posted $10,000 bail on the charge of being an accessory to the murder of ex-wife Noleen Hayson Pal, 30, a mother-of-two stabbed to death and burned in April 2013. The magistrate on the case said he was not a threat to the public.
Monis’ then partner Amirah Droudis, 34, has been charged with the murder.
Earlier this year, the so-called ‘spiritual healer’ was also released pending trial on more than 40 charges of indecent and sexual assault of several women in 2002.
Monis was previously convicted for sending offensive letters to grieving families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, likening their fallen sons to murderers. He pleaded guilty and was placed on a two-year good behaviour bond and ordered to do 300 hours of community service.
He lost his High Court appeal — in which he argued that punishing his letters gagged free speech — despite half of the judges agreeing with him.
All this has left mourners, and possibly the families of those taken hostage, asking how a man with links to a murder, a long list of sexual assault charges and convictions for menacing total strangers could remain free?
A tougher new scheme?
Monis was granted bail under both old and supposedly ‘weaker’ new bail laws. His bail for sex offences was continued in October under the new scheme.
The new laws were criticised heavily within a month of coming into effect in May after accused murderer Steven Frank Fesus and former bikie boss Mahmoud Mick Hawi were granted bail.
On Channel Nine’s Today show on Tuesday morning, 2GB radio presenter Ray Hadley claimed that under the old laws Monis “would have been taken into custody”.
NSW Attorney-General Brad Hazzard implied on Tuesday that the gunman’s bail outcome might have been different if the third version of bail laws, drafted in response to the backlash and due to come into effect in January, were already in place.
“It is our intent that offenders involved in serious crime will not get bail,” Mr Hazzard said.
“We are determined that there will be lessons learnt arising out of this appalling criminal act, this senseless tragedy.”
‘Not a threat’
When releasing Monis on the accessory murder charge, Magistrate Darryl Pearce said that the case against him was “weak” and that he did not represent a threat to the public, a judgment tragically proven wrong.
Lindt cafe manager Tori Johnson, 34, and Sydney barrister Katrina Dawson, 38, died early on Tuesday morning as a result of Monis’ siege.
Bail hearings usually last mere minutes, but it took the magistrate three hours to grant Monis his freedom in Penrith Local Court on December 13.
A criminal lawyer told The New Daily the length of the hearing was “unusual” and reflected the seriousness of the charge.
“Three hours shows just how seriously the question of whether he should be in custody was taken by the court,” said Andrew Tiedt, a criminal lawyer at Sydney-based firm Armstrong Legal.
Mr Tiedt said it would “not be normal” for a person charged with murder in NSW to receive bail, but noted that accessory to murder is “a very different charge”.
“Certainly for murder it would be unusual. Accessory is a different question because accessory has an incredibly broad range of things you can be said to have done,” he said.
In relation to the sex offences, Monis was deemed to pose an “unacceptable risk to interfering with witnesses or evidence” but that was said to be offset by tough conditions, including reporting daily to police.
NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn confirmed that the official police investigation would probe Monis’ bail status.
“This is a man who had a serious history of criminal offences and a history of violence,” she said.
– with AAP