Six years ago a gunman took siege of the Lindt cafe in Sydney and 16 hours of hell broke loose. Detective Paul Horton describes the profound impact it had on him.
On December 15 2014, lone gunman Man Haron Monis held ten customers and eight employees of Lindt cafe hostage in Martin Place, Sydney. Detective Senior Constable Paul Horton should never have been in the city that day, but what he witnessed left him with PTSD. He tells of the terrifying ordeal.
I was starting my shift at 2pm that day. I’d spent the morning pottering around the house and dropped my kids at daycare. The Lindt cafe siege had been all over the news. As I was driving to work I thought: “I’m glad I work in Blacktown, I won’t be involved in what’s going on in the city.”
I started my regular shift and things were pretty normal. A couple of hours in we got the call: my partner and I were called to Martin Place.
It was about 7.30pm when we arrived, we had a short briefing at the Supreme Court where all the media and hostage families were.
It was absolute chaos. The media was mixed in with families, you didn’t know who was who.
My partner and I met a supervisor at the command post; our role was to provide support as the situation evolved.
The supervisor said a day shift crew had been there a long time and needed to be relieved. So, my partner and I took our position in Philip Street, in an alcove.
Our role at that point was to recover hostages as they escaped.–– ADVERTISEMENT ––about:blank
Hostages were escaping but didn’t know where to go. They were running to the nearest police but as those were tactical police, their focus was on the cafe, the siege and the target.
Our role was to get them safely to the command post where they spoke to other police about what was happening inside the cafe.
At 1.30am, a stream of police came through.
I received a phone call saying the replacements that were coming to relieve us were being briefed and they would come out.
At this point, we were about 20 metres from the cafe, still in the alcove.
We had very little information about what was occurring inside as the tactical police operate independently. That raised my anxiety, as I didn’t know what we were dealing with.
At 2:13am a hostage named Fiona escaped.
She ran out, I ran down to her, and then Monis fired.
I’ll never forget those minutes; she was emotional, scared, I was telling her it’s OK … but I didn’t honestly know it was going to be OK.
After Monis fired, the tactical police gave the signal.
I thought, ‘Sh*t, they’re going in.’ My mind was racing; I had no idea what was coming next.
Monis shooting at the hostages forced their hand; his actions changed the police response at the precise time I was in the immediate position.
This all would have happened in about 10 seconds but it’s in my mind forever, replaying really slowly.
I had a responsibility to care for the hostage – if I had one wish in the world, it would be not to be there, let alone be in this situation.
As police stormed the cafe, there was a lot of banging and shots were fired. I’ve never been in a war zone, but it had that feeling to it. I had no idea whether it was safe to leave the loading dock or not.
There was more banging, shots were fired, lights were on and off, there was yelling.
Then it subsided for a while. I thought it was safe to go but then it started again.
It was chaos; there was no communication as to what was happening.
Tactical police started bringing out other hostages.
There was one lady with an ankle injury; I took her to the command post.
Another lady came out with a very severe ankle injury, it was completely gone, but she was very calm, though clearly in shock.
The ambulance came and I remember feeling relief they were getting the appropriate medical attention they needed.
I knew the whole world was watching, it was all over the news, but I have never felt so alone in my whole life.
I can’t explain that feeling but it was overwhelming.
The dust settled a little but we had no information, no updates.
All that was flashing through my mind was: “I shouldn’t even be here, I was meant to be in Blacktown.”
My partner had blood on his shirt. He’d been doing CPR on one hostage. I saw another carried out but I knew they were dead.
We stayed at the command post waiting for instructions from senior police. We went through processes, procedures and alcohol testing.
We were at the City of Sydney RSL and were told to wait in the common area. There was a big TV, they were playing police storming the cafe over and over and over again.
That maximised my exposure to those images and magnified the feeling of being alone because I’d seen it all with my own eyes.
It wasn’t until around 7am that the situation changed from counter terrorism police running the job to a critical incident. There was a handover of information.
I’d been on the job working for about 22 hours at that point.
Back at the station we got a heroes welcome, “Good on ya” our colleagues were saying.
I was thinking, “You don’t understand. It wasn’t good.’ I didn’t feel proud. I should never have been there.”
I wanted to do my statement straight away to close the chapter, but I had to wait two weeks.
My family and friends started to notice a difference in me after the siege. I was getting back into the swing of things at work; I just kept going.
My daughters were very young, three and four. I felt myself becoming distant from my family and close friends.
I voluntarily admitted myself to hospital four months after the siege, for a total of three weeks. I knew my mental health was bad and that time was invaluable as I learnt a lot about PTSD as well as skills to cope.
My view of policing changed after the siege; it’s always dangerous but having been confronted with the siege, I just couldn’t move past it.
In the police force, if you’re going to a shooting you can mentally prepare yourself. If you’re going to a stabbing, you can mentally prepare yourself. But the siege was all so sudden, it was such a coincidental chain of events, I couldn’t do anything to prepare myself.
Every morning before I left for work I’d take photos of my little kids sleeping. I was terrified I might not be coming home that night; I just wanted to have those images with me.
I became manic at work; my productivity probably went up because I couldn’t sit down. I would do anything not to be left alone with my thoughts.
In 2015, my relationship broke down. Then in June 2016 I started a new relationship with a woman called Lea and in September 2018 I remarried.
Lea has been incredibly supportive, I don’t like to think where I would be without her.
In my darkest moments, she was there to keep me going and keep me strong.
It’s all trauma, layers of trauma. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.Need to talk to someone?
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