New Zealand’s prime minister, police and security services have apologised following the Royal Commission report into the Christchurch terror attacks.
Forty-four recommendations have been made in the commission’s 800-page report, which looked into whether the atrocity on 15 March last year could have been prevented.
The commission found the attack could not have been prevented, but details failings by police and the NZ Security Intelligence Service, earmarking the need for major change.
Terrorist Brenton Tarrant is now serving life in prison without parole – the toughest jail penalty imposed in New Zealand’s judicial history – for the murders of 51 people and attempted murder of 40 others at two city mosques.
The report found the firearms licence process failed to meet standards when Tarrant was granted his licence, with the regulation of semi-automatic weapons described as lax, open to exploitation and gamed by him.
Tarrant’s firearms licence was approved within three months of his arrival in New Zealand.
He initially named his sister as a referee, but as she lived overseas, he replaced that with two others. One was a “friend” he played online games with and had only ever been in his company for 21 days over a decade of gaming, and the friend’s parent who had only ever seen him for seven days over four years.
Commissioner of Police Andrew Coster apologised to those affected by the shootings, saying: “We could have done more. We unreservedly apologise.
“The only information that could or should have alerted police and other agencies to the attack was the email sent by the terrorist to parliament just eight minutes before the attack.”
The report also found the NZSIS had an inappropriate concentration of counter-terrorism re-s on the threat of Islamic extremist terrorism, but that wasn’t why Tarrant slipped under the radar.
“There was no way he could have been detected except by chance,” it said.
New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern said: “The commission made no findings that these issues would have stopped the attack. But these were both failings nonetheless and for that I apologise.”
The director general of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS), Rebecca Kitteridge has also apologised to the many Muslim organisations who felt they had been targeted by the security agency, leading them to believe the Muslim community was being monitored.
“That was not and is not the case, NZSIS should have done better at explaining our role to the community and listening to their concerns. I know a number of people have found this upsetting and to them I apologise.”
Some 1168 submissions were received by those compiling the report, with many survivors saying they still do not feel safe at prayer and in their everyday lives.
The government said it accepted the report findings and agreed in principal to the 44 recommendations, appointing a minister to coordinate the government response and implement changes.
Ms Ardern said: “Going forward, we need to ensure an adequate focus of re-s on the range of threats New Zealand faces and enhance our security and intelligence, and social cohesion work.
“An apology would be hollow without action.”
Other immediate changes announced by the government include, establishing a Ministry for Ethnic Communities, a programme for frontline police to manage hate crime, amending the Terrorism Suppression Act to strengthen counter-terrorism legislation and creating a police-led early intervention programme for those showing early signs of radicalisation.
More was also revealed about Tarrant, with the report saying he had displayed racist behaviour from a young age, with issues in his life fuelling resentment until he became radicalised and formed extreme right-wing views about those he deemed a threat.
Tarrant arrived in New Zealand from Australia on 17 August 2017, moving to Dunedin, south of Christchurch. From that day, his life was devoted to planning his attack.
He had no close friends and avoided social situations. He was described as methodical, but as someone who could present well so he didn’t attract suspicion.
On 13 July 2018, Tarrant accidentally fired his gun, leaving a bullet hole in the ceiling of his flat. He injured his right eye and thigh, resulting in him needing treatment at Dunedin Hospital’s emergency department. Tarrant told them a round of ammunition exploded while he was cleaning a rifle barrel.
Metal fragments were removed from his eye and he was sent for x-rays of his leg, but no one, including hospital staff or his landlord reported the incident to police. The commission recommended that health officials be required to report firearms injuries to police.
Other findings include the establishment of a new national intelligence security agency, and six recommendations to overhaul and improve New Zealand’s firearms licensing system.
The report warns of complacency. “New Zealand will never be immune from violent extremism and terrorism. Even with the best systems in the world, a determined would-be terrorist could carry out an attack. But there is much the government can do, starting with a greater transparency and openness with New Zealanders.”