Senior police lacked involvement and did not appreciate the seriousness of the Boorabbin bushfires, an inquest was told.
Senior police lacked involvement and did not appreciate the seriousness of the Boorabbin bushfires, an inquest was told.

Senior police lacked involvement and did not appreciate the seriousness of the Boorabbin bushfires, an inquest was told yesterday.

Reviewing the incident in which three truck drivers died on the Great Eastern Highway when a bushfire raged through Boorabbin National Park on December 30, 2007, Assistant Commissioner John McRoberts said the police response from Kalgoorlie was deficient.

"It seems the officers did not appreciate the seriousness of this particular fire," he told the Coroner's Court. "They believed it was much the same as a series of fires which occur each year in that district."

Putting forward to Coroner Alastair Hope some 40 recommendations to ensure there was never a repeat of such an incident, Mr McRoberts promised: "What happened at Boorabbin could not happen again because of the systems, procedures and training we have in place."

The inquest into the deaths of Lewis Bedford, 60, Trevor Murley, 53, and Robert Taylor, 46, who died when their trucks were engulfed in flames, has been told that the bushfire started between Southern Cross and Coolgardie and spread over a wide area. The temperature was above 40C with strong winds.

In his evidence yesterday, Mr McRoberts said that an employee from the Department of Environment and Conservation called Kalgoorlie police on the day, asking for a liaison officer to become involved but Sgt Kim Mahoney declined the request and also declined to attend a briefing.

Mr McRoberts said that the officer-in-charge at Kalgoorlie, Supt Kevin Looby, knew of the Boorabbin fire but did not know police had been asked to be involved in the incident management team. "To the best of his knowledge, this was just another fire, which is fairly common in the region every year," Mr McRoberts said.

The three or four non-commissioned officers based at Kalgoorlie were not involved in the incident until some hours after the three men had died.

"The lack of senior police involvement is a deficiency in the WA police response," Mr McRoberts said. "The arrangements which should have been implemented were not (implemented)."

Mr McRoberts said that officers from Southern Cross and Coolgardie helped at roadblocks and acted as escorts for some vehicles, although they did not have the authority to perform that role. "The officers were acting in good faith to the best of their ability to reduce inconvenience to the general public," he added.

The inquest continues today.

The West Australian

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