Lindt Cafe terror: ‘There’s that f ***ing … shoot him’
Hours before dawn, Angelo Memmolo jolted awake to the buzz of his phone.
"Ange, it's gone to shit," said the caller - Memmolo's boss at the homicide squad.
"It" was the siege that had begun the previous morning in December 2014 at the Lindt Cafe in Sydney's CBD. By "shit", the homicide squad's then-commander Mick Willing meant hostages had been killed.
"Oh, f…," said Memmolo. He knew what this meant. His life was about to be consumed by the kind of task no cop looks for - a critical incident investigation into how, why and with what consequence police have used deadly force.
He got out of bed and began to process the enormity of the task. "I'm in the shower thinking to myself: 'Should I go off sick?'," Memmolo tells former homicide detective colleague Gary Jubelin in an explosive new episode of smash-hit I Catch Killers podcast.
It was a fleeting thought: Memmolo was the on-call homicide inspector and a four-decade veteran of the police with a reputation for never giving up. He was never going to call in sick: instead, he got dressed and went straight to work.
Until his retirement last year, Detective Inspector Memmolo was one of NSW Police's finest, having run countless major investigations including bringing down notorious criminal Bassam Hamzy and his Brothers 4 Life gang. Hamzy plotted to have Memmolo killed, prompting police to put a 24-hour guard on Memmolo's home, with patrol cars driving up and down the street.
On the night of the Lindt siege, hostages Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson had died along with gunman Man Haron Monis in the final minutes of the epic standoff, and the Lindt Cafe was now a devastated mess of glass, wood, blood, bullet casings and debris left behind when tactical officers stormed the cafe in a hail of flashbang explosives and gunfire.
"Most murders we go to are pretty pristine, cops don't stuff it up too badly, we don't go in and contaminate (the scene)," Memmolo says.
"This one was contaminated because of the need to rescue all the hostages. I'm not being critical. That's our first need, to save lives. So cops were going in there and moving things around, moving chairs, moving bodies, dragging bodies out, dragging injured hostages out. They actually moved Monis' body to get to some of the hostages."
At 3.30am Memmolo walked into the major incident control room at the Sydney Police Centre in Surry Hills. "It was pretty sombre. And I came in as the bad guy because I'm the investigator, internal affairs to a degree. Guys who were my bosses, who I've known for a long, long time, are now involved officers. A shitload of pressure.
"You start following the bouncing ball. Stick to your procedures, stick to what you know, break it down as much as you can."
Almost as soon as the siege ended, the controversy began about whether police could have saved more lives by entering the cafe earlier, or taken Monis out with a marksman's bullet. One police sniper subsequently claimed he believed he could have disabled the gunman by shooting him through the glass.
"There was a lot of people coming out, ex-army people, ex-cops. They were talking out of their bums. Their arses. I remember seeing one tactical guy … saying 'I could have taken that shot'. Little did he know that was ballistic glass. (Monis) didn't present himself. He wouldn't have been able to take the shot. It was just bullshit. All of that stuff, (that) we could have done a better job; it was just rubbish."
After exhaustive ballistic testing, one of Memmolo's greatest challenges was to break the news to the tactical officers that one of their weapons had fired the round that killed Katrina Dawson after ricocheting off a wooden chair.
"My heart was breaking for them. I mean that sincerely. We had to ring the coroner, tell him we're going to tell both families, how we think they died. That was one of the hardest things I've done, telling both those families how their kids had died, their wife had died, their mother. Really, really hard - and we had been responsible for it. Then (I) had to tell the tactical blokes. I remember standing there and addressing the group; I remember seeing the main guy, he started welling up and (I) said: 'She's died from one of our bullets'."
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Memmolo says the tactical officers' actions that night were among "the bravest I've seen".
"One of the tactical guys had messaged his wife: 'Can you send us a photograph of our newborn baby because I don't think I'm going to make it back.' That's so brave. This is what they were going through - and they still went in. Carry that shield, sprint down the road, charge through the windows, one of the glass doors and then say: 'There's that f … ing c …, shoot him in the head, shoot him in the head'."
The coroner, based on Memmolo's investigation, would later heap praise upon the courage and skill of the tactical officers, but found systemic weaknesses in the police response to the terrorist incident.
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Originally published as Unheard Lindt Cafe terror: 'There's that f ***ing … shoot him'