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Lindt families denied cops' debrief notes

AAP logoAAP 15/11/2016

The families of slain Lindt Cafe siege hostages Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson have been refused access to debriefing notes made by tactical police engaged in the fatal incident.

Lawyers for the families unsuccessfully challenged the NSW police commissioner's claim to "public interest immunity" over the notes, which blocks interested parties and the public from viewing the documents.

Releasing the notes would destroy an understanding among officers that their debriefing process was confidential, causing some to be reticent about participating candidly in future, the commissioner said.

Criminals desperate to understand police methodology could also prosper if the notes were released, he added.

But the families said this harm was overstated, arguing officers could be forced to participate in debriefs and police methods could be kept secret through non-publication orders.

NSW Coroner Michael Barnes, who has presided over a long-running inquest into the siege, agreed police methods could be protected if the notes were only released under strict conditions.

But Mr Barnes said confidentiality was critical to debriefs among tactical officers and must not be eroded.

Some tactical officers were already refusing to participate in debriefs or providing less information, while other sessions were canned altogether based on a perception confidentially was being stripped away from the process, he said.

"The very tangible negative impact on law enforcement in NSW, compared with the slight impact that would flow to the administration of justice, means that the balance must fall in favour of the confidentiality of the documents being maintained," Mr Barnes said in a decision published on Tuesday

Mr Barnes said it was difficult to conceive how the "sparse, second-hand" debriefing notes would assist the families, pointing out his review of the documents did not reveal any inconsistencies with the evidence received.

It would be unfortunate if an inquest designed to foster public health and safety ended up undermining improvements to high-risk policing, he said.

Mr Barnes is expected to hand down his findings into the inquest early next year.

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