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The tragic events of March 15, 2019, will remain etched in the memories of New Zealanders who, like me, were shocked as news filtered out that mass shootings had occurred at two Christchurch mosques.

I arrived in Christchurch within two hours of the masjidain attacks and witnessed the pain and utter shock on the faces of the families of victims, but also on the faces of ambulance staff and police officers to whom the roles of response, protection and then investigation fell.

In the days that followed, there was an outpouring of grief and aroha from the people of Christchurch, which quickly spread across the motu. From one of our darkest days, there was widespread and genuine support for our Islamic community.

Now, in their quest for answers, the families of the victims deserve and have our respect. My fear, however, is the coronial process under way will never be able to give them the answers that would give them peace.

The proceedings feel more like an adversarial court process than the inquisitorial nature expected of an inquest, particularly so given the Justice Department’s description of an inquest: a hearing that “does not aim to determine civil, criminal, or disciplinary liability. It is an inquisitorial process that aims to find out the facts of the death(s)”.

It’s important to remember there have been months of disclosure, submissions and decisions behind the scenes leading up to this inquest. The witness statements have been given to the coroner and family lawyers so the answers to many of the adversarial questions we are seeing have long been known. Allowing them to play out as they have in this court creates an element of show that I find disrespectful to victims and officers, many of whom are being retraumatised by the process.

If the proceeding is truly about getting answers, adversarial questioning is not the way to do that.

It feels like a challenge to first responders to prove, knowing what they know now, that they didn’t get it wrong on the day. The clarity of hindsight seems to have tainted some lawyers’ views of how police and ambulance staff responded. The reality was they had confusing communications and thought they were possibly dealing with multiple shooters in different locations.

The hearing has also delivered an unsupported and insulting innuendo of racism. I was appalled to hear that a lawyer asked an AOS member whether he would have been as cautious as he was about stopping people entering the mosque after the shootings if he’d been talking to a group of white people. This should have been objected to in the strongest possible terms and, unsurprisingly, has left members offended and questioning the fairness of the whole process.

It is appropriate that, after an event of this nature, every effort is made to ensure lessons are learnt and improvements made, but I dispute that this hearing will deliver that.

What is missing is fulsome acknowledgment of the fact that within 20 minutes of the first shot being fired, the gunman was in custody. That is simply outstanding policing and I will always remain intensely proud of police staff that day. Our exceptional people stood up when it counted and delivered in the most trying of conditions.

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