Police in Victoria are “confident that they’ve complied with the policy” in a fatal police pursuit that ended with the deaths of two people in Melbourne’s northern suburbs on Tuesday night.
Two males died when the black Toyota Kluger they were driving hit a truck while being chased by police on Bell Street, Preston about 10pm. They have yet to be identified, and their families also have not been identified or informed as of Wednesday morning.
Their deaths will be investigated as a death in police presence and subject to a mandatory inquest. Between July 1989 and June 2017, 232 people died in police pursuits in Australia. Fifty-two of those people were Indigenous.
It comes two and a half years after another fatal police pursuit in Preston resulted in the death of an Indigenous man, whose family are still awaiting a coronial inquest.
Police allege the pair were connected to an aggravated burglary that occurred in St Albans earlier on Tuesday night, about 7.30pm, and the alleged theft of a Mitsubishi Triton and a Volkswagen Golf.
The assistant commissioner Luke Cornelius said police believed those who died in the pursuit were originally in that stolen Triton, and that is why they were followed.
“Following that aggravated burglary we were able to follow in particular the Mitsubishi Triton,” Cornelius, who manages the north-west metropolitan region, told reporters. “And we followed that to a hotel in Sunshine. And then we came to understand that people from that vehicle moved to a black Kluger.”
Cornelius said the Kluger was tracked by police airwing, and pursued on and off by police for about an hour. He said police would allege that it appeared to be attempting a carjacking just before 10pm, and that was what triggered the final pursuit.
It crashed after driving over “stop sticks” set out by police on an on-ramp to the Western Ring Road, which deflated two of the tyres.
“I would have to say that the people in that Kluger would have known that they’ve gone over stop-sticks, they would have known that their tyres had deflated, and yet they’ve continued to engage in that dangerous driving,” Cornelius said.
Cornelius says the Kluger was travelling about 80km/h at one point, in a 60km/h zone, and was “speeding away from police” when it hit a truck, which then rolled over another car. No one in the truck or the other car was seriously injured.
“I am very fortunate … that I’m talking to you this morning about the deaths of only two people because there were two other innocent parties involved in that collision,” he said.
He said it was a “very high impact scene”.
“There is not much left of the front of the Kluger, and as a result of that the occupants of that vehicle were very seriously injured, and that is one of the reasons that we are struggling with identity,” he said.
Cornelius defended the actions of police, saying that on the assessment of local police commanders, “our members can be confident that they’ve complied with the policy”.
“The key point I would make is that police are not birds on a wire here,” he said. “We will not stand by and watch serious, high-end offending, which has a terrible impact on our community, we’re not going to stand by and watch it.
“Where we take the view that it is safe to intervene and to interdict and stop those criminals, we will do so.”
Cornelius said he had “a sense that members did everything they could and should have last night to properly manage this situation”, adding, “of course I should also say that we are accountable”.