His name has become inextricably linked with the tragic events in Bourke Street almost three years ago, but murderer James Gargasoulas will only be known as “the offender” throughout a coronial inquest into the deaths of his victims.
On the first day of the inquiry, the Coroner’s Court of Victoria heard Gargasoulas, who is serving at least 46 years in prison for murdering six people and injuring dozens more, will not be mentioned by name at the request of his victims’ families.
In her opening to the inquest, Coroner Jacqui Hawkins referred to “horrific scenes of murder and carnage” that followed when Gargasoulas mowed down pedestrians in a stolen maroon Holden Commodore in Melbourne’s Bourke Street Mall in January 2017.
“It has astounded me that many more people were not killed or injured,” Ms Hawkins said.
“One by one these lives were extinguished.
“These six individuals were going about their day … when the murderous actions of the offender ended their lives.
“I have a responsibility to the family and friends of the victims … to examine the events of this day.”
The coronial inquest into the deaths of Gargasoulas’s victims was initially opened in July 2017, but had to be adjourned so the criminal process would not be compromised.
Gargasoulas was sentenced to life in prison, with a non-parole period of 46 years, in February this year.
“Thankfully, the community is now much safer for it,” Ms Hawkins said.
Dozens of witnesses to be questioned
The inquest will focus on a number of issues, including the out-of-sessions bail hearing at which Gargasoulas was given bail, and Victoria Police’s response to the incident.
In his opening address, counsel assisting the inquest Stephen O’Meara QC said Gargasoulas engaged in a “cowardly and maniacal rampage”.
“It was a horrendous crime,” he said.
“It reverberated across the country and internationally.”
The inquest will hear spoken evidence from 62 witnesses, many of whom would be profoundly traumatised, Mr O’Meara said.
Ms Hawkins acknowledged the inquest would be unbearably painful for families and witnesses.
She urged the lawyers present – there were more than 25 at the bar table on the first day – to be sensitive and respectful when questioning witnesses.
She told the inquest she would be searching for answers.
“We must learn from this and be better equipped in the future,” she said.
Family members are expected to address the inquest later on Monday.