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Miranda Devine: Too many unanswered questions in ACL explosion

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Newspaper columnist and broadcaster Miranda Devine has said there are too many unanswered questions in relation to the explosion at the Australian Christian Lobby’s headquarters in Canberra.

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Describing the incident as a “car bombing” Devine said ACT police should be doing more to reassure the public that the incident was not terror related, and that there were too many unanswered questions.

The columnist is currently filling in for Steve Price on Sydney’s 2GB and spoke to Australian Christian Lobby head Lyle Shelton on her show earlier in the week, and continued her investigation of the incident on Wednesday night with a retired police detective.

Joining Devine and Daily Telegraph writer Tim Blair on the show, Lyle Shelton, the Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby, said police had not given him any additional information about the incident, but he was surprised that police had categorically denied that the explosion was not politically, religiously or ideologically motivated.

“This to us it just seems incredible that within hours of something like this they can categorically rule out any nefarious motive.” Shelton said.

Shelton said the police’s decision to make the statement ruling out a political motivation had led to increased distress for himself and his staff at the Australian Christian Lobby.

The ACL leader said the decision to make a statement before a full investigation has been completed undermines confident in the authorities.

“They are wanting us to believe that this was an individual with mental illness issues, which I’m sure he may well have had, who was just looking for somewhere to commit suicide.” Shelton said.

Shelton said the it would be an amazing coincidence if the police had reached the correct conclusion on the matter. Sheldon was skeptical that the man who ignited the fire would have been able to walk the 4 km journey to the hospital after being injured.

“My suspicions were aroused right from the get-go when I spoke to a senior police officer who was on site while the van was still smoldering. I was on holidays in Queensland and straight away he was saying ‘This is not what you think it is, this is not what you think it is’. It was very clear to me that they were wanting to down-play this.”

Shelton said he still hoped that the police were right, but said he was suspicious of the circumstances, noting that when the Deputy Commissioner of the ACT Police had met with him they had been “testy” and had displayed bad body language.

Shelton said that until police had investigated the man’s online’s activities to see if he had ever looked up the Australian Christian Lobby he can’t be certain about the motivation of the attacker.

On Wednesday night’s show Devine said the circumstances of explosion remained suspicious and she’d found more strange and disturbing details, but prefaced her claims noting that many of them could not be confirmed.

Devine said that she had been told that the driver of the vehicle had only opened the valves on half of the gas cylinders in the van when the explosion occurred. Devine said her information was that if all six canisters had exploded the Australian Christian Lobby’s head quarters would have been flattened.

The journalist questioned how it was possible for the injured man, who was badly burnt, to be able to walk along busy roads to Canberra hospital in Woden without being seen by any witnesses. Devine said she had been led to believe CCTV  from both potential exits did not contain any footage of the man leaving the scene on foot.

Devine also said that the police’s decision to describe the event as a “car fire” was an attempt to hose-down the issue, through the broadcast Devine referred to the incident as a “car bomb” and “suicide bombing”.

The broadcaster said that the police had refused to speak to her on air about the incident as their investigation was ongoing.

“If there is an explanation, a simple straight forward explanation, other than terrorism or a deliberate targeting of the ACL building, then the police in the ACT have a duty to tell us.” Devine told her listeners.

“One of their jobs, the jobs of police is to reassure the public about the fear of crime, and there are many people involved with this who are concerned that there is much more than meets the eye.”

The journalist said she thought it was odd that the police on the scene after the explosion cleared the scene so quickly.

Listing a number of questions she wanted answered, Devine said people needed to know if the man had flown to Canberra from Sydney, whether he had hired the van involved in the incident, if a third party had helped him get to the hospital after the explosion, or if he had accomplices.

Devine said it was also concerning that the man who allegedly started the fire, who is now in a Sydney hospital, was not under police guard.

Sharing that Chanel Seven’s reporter Cameron Price had found a woman working at a law office near the Australian Christian Lobby headquarters. Devine said the woman had noticed a red hatchback parked in the car park outside her office and two men loitering beside the car.

Devine said the the witness has said that when the explosion occurred the two men didn’t flinch.

“The two men she was watching didn’t flinch, they made no reaction, almost as if they were expecting it.” Devine said.

The Australian newspaper however has published an interview from what is believed to be the same witness, which has significantly different details to what Devine shared on-air. In The Australian the witness said she had only seen the suspicious car sometime after the explosion occurred.

“I was typing around 9pm roughly and I heard a large bang — it could have been a car accident, it could have been anything. It didn’t sound like gunfire, it didn’t sound like anything too ominous,” the witness told The Australian.

“I continued typing for about five or 10 minutes. I called up my husband and I looked outside and there was a vehicle parked in the same 10-bay parking area (as her car). That was the only other vehicle in the vicinity. I noticed because (someone) had a foot on the brakes and (the car) had the brake lights on.

“There was at least one person (in the car) and probably two standing outside the vehicle; I could hear them talking,” she said. She thought they were all men.

The woman watched the car from her upstairs office and after a few minutes it drove off in the direction of the Australian Christian Lobby’s office.

“There was no screeching of tyres; it just drove off towards the direction of the Christian Lobby,” she said.

 ACT police have declined to comment on the report in The Australian.

Former Detective Sergeant Tim Priest and author appeared on Wednesday night’s radio program and said the police’s response to the incident had been puzzling, and in his opiniopn it didn’t make sense that the police had not released more information.

Devine said if the explosion had occurred at the Lakemba Mosque or the Marriage Equality Headquarters a lot more would be being made of it.

“There would be a conga line of politicians wanting to put their arm around the local Iman,” Priest said. “There would be considerable debate in the media and  suspicions would be thrown on the hard-right and neo-nazis and it would be going on for days.”

The former detective said that because the incident occurred at a Christian organisation few people in the media were asking questions about it.

“Christians in this country are so far down the list that we don’t warrant some sort of public statement from the police.” Priest said.


If you  are struggling with anxiety or depression, support and counseling are available from:

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Beyondblue: 1300 22 4636 and www.beyondblue.org.au

QLife: 1800 184 527 and www.qlife.org.au

QLife are a counselling and referral service for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people.

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