The Northern Territory Has Had Its First Mass Shooting Ever

, The Northern Territory Has Had Its First Mass Shooting Ever

The Northern Territory Has Had Its First Mass Shooting Ever

THE STORY

Last night in Darwin’s CBD, a 45-year-old man, now known as Ben Hoffmann, allegedly used a 12-guage pump-action shotgun to shoot and kill four men at four different locations and injure one woman. He used several vehicles to visit seven different locations across the city throughout the day. At one of the locations, it is believed a knife was involved in a fight that broke out between Hoffmann and others. Witnesses recounted to police later that Hoffmann was looking for a person named ‘Alex’. Police spoke to Alex, who was interstate at the time of the offending. They have not recounted details of the conversation. According to the Police Commissioner, Reece Kershaw, the first emergency call from the public occurred near the CBD at 5:45pm. Hoffmann called the Police Duty Superintendent after the shootings, and this act allows the Superintendent to alert local police of Hoffmann’s location. He was later tracked down by police and their tactical response group on the outskirts of Darwin CBD approximately an hour after the first emergency call.

MOTIVE AND CRIMINAL HISTORY

Commissioner Kershaw said it is unknown if or how the victims are linked to the alleged shooter, but the notion that it was a terrorist act has been ruled out upon finding no links to terrorism. The Commissioner emphasised that this was a lone act. The alleged shooter was already well known to the local police and has had several unpleasant interactions with them. In fact, Hoffmann was wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet at the time of the alleged offences, and it was always on. This tool will assist police with their upcoming investigation. This raises questions, however, as to the quality of this monitoring bracelet. Questions that have not been answered include, what was the purpose of the bracelet and why were the authorities not alerted as to Hoffmann’s movements. It is understandable that the events occurred early in the evening, so if the only aim was to create a curfew for the shooter, this could be an explanation was to why no alarm was raised.

OUT ON PAROLE

Hoffmann had already recently served more than a year in gaol. Corrections Commissioner Scott McNairn confirmed that Hoffmann had been on parole since January. Before that, he had been sentenced to six years in gaol, with a non-parole period of four years. It is unknown to the public what crimes this sentence was for but his release on parole was under 23 strict conditions. He had once received a minor breach for breaking his curfew for less than an hour and served a 14-day custodial sentence for this breach. This raises other critical questions of our criminal justice system – should people convicted of crimes be subject to even more surveillance after being released on parole? The fact that Hoffmann had been sentenced to six years gaol time suggests it was a serious offence(s). If 23 stringent conditions were not enough to prevent him re-offending – were there any other conditions that could have been imposed to prevent this? Or was it simply an error to release him? Fundamental questions arise here, like how do we balance the legal principle against double punishment, against the need to protect the community? These are not easy to ponder solutions to.

THE ARREST

It is believed that Hoffmann was tackled to the ground and tasered before his arrest. This, a precaution, due to the belief that the gun was still on him at the time of his arrest. He is currently being held at Royal Darwin Hospital.

THE LAW

Applicable charges in this case include possess firearm in public, use firearm to commit indictable offence, possess knife in public, murder/manslaughter, and assault causing actual bodily harm, at least. The firearm was ‘prohibited’ under the relevant Northern Territory Legislation and it is said that it could have been stolen back in 1997. In NSW, pursuant to section 7A of the Firearms Act 1996 (NSW) a person must not possess a firearm unless the person has a licence or permit to do so. A person is only permitted to possess a firearm within the category of licence held. For possession of weapons other than a firearm the maximum penalty of imprisonment is 14 years. For firearms offences the maximum sentences depend on the nature of the firearm and are up to 14 years for the simplest possession. The maximums are even longer for individuals who are classified as “prohibited persons,” including those who have been convicted of serious crimes AND is higher again where there has been an unauthorised use of a firearm. In these circumstances, Hoffmann would be subject to such charges if he were in NSW. For more on firearms offences, check out our dedicated page here.

The offence of custody of a knife is expressed in section 11C of the Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW) as stating: ‘a person must not, without reasonable excuse (proof of which lies on the person), have in his or her custody a knife in a public place or a school.’ The maximum penalty for this offence is a fine up to $2,200, imprisonment for two years, or both. For more on the offence of having a knife in public, read our dedicated page here. The offences of murder and manslaughter are addressed in section 18 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) and defines murder as the act done by a person which causes the death of another, with the intention of doing so. Manslaughter is where the resulting death is caused by an act which was done without intent or malice. The maximum penalties are life or 25 years’ imprisonment. For more on these, have a look at our page which covers penalties, defences, pleading guilty, and case studies.

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