Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has welcomed the guilty pleas made today by the man who murdered 51 people at two Christchurch mosques.
Brenton Tarrant changed his plea from not guilty to guilty in an appearance by audio-visual link in the High Court at Christchurch this morning.
He also pleaded guilty to 40 charges of attempted murder and a terrorism charge. After hearing the guilty pleas, presiding judge Justice Mander entered convictions “on each and every” charge.
Today Ms Ardern said she let out a "massive sigh of relief" when she heard the news.
"The guilty plea today will provide some relief to the many people whose lives were shattered by what happened on March 15," she says.
“These guilty pleas and conviction bring accountability for what happened and also save the families who lost loved ones, those who were injured, and other witnesses, the ordeal of a trial."
Ms Ardern said she couldn't comment further, including any speculation whether the he should be deported, as sentencing is yet to happen.
After the shooting, Ms Ardern refused to use the gunman's name and today she reiterated that decision.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush echoed those comments during a press briefing on the coronavirus crisis this afternoon.
Now that he has admitted the charges, there will be no trial – it had been set down to start in June this year and was expected to last six weeks.
Sentencing for the 92 charges will take place at a date yet to be set. Tarrant was remanded in custody until May 1.
The charges, including the names of all the victims, were read to him. Before entering his guilty pleas on the murder charges, he asked for one of the names to be repeated.
Due to the national coronavirus lockdown currently in place, today’s court hearing took place with minimal staff, lawyers and media present.
The judge imposed a one-hour embargo on reporting to give family and victims time to learn what had taken place before it was made public.
Justice Mander said: “It is regrettable that the Covid-19 restrictions that presently apply do not permit victims and their families to travel to be present in the courtroom when the defendant entered his pleas of guilty.”
One representative from each mosque was permitted to be in court this morning to represent the victims and their families.
COMMUNITY REACTION MIXED
There was a mixed response from the community to today’s development.
Farid Ahmed, who lost his wife Husna in the attack on the Al Noor Mosque, said many will be feeling relieved they now do not have to go through the trial because doing so would bring it all back. However, others will be feeling very sad, still thinking about their loved ones.
Mr Ahmed said of the gunman: “I still love him as a human brother. I have been praying for him and he has taken the right direction.
“I am pleased he is feeling guilty, it is a good start.”
Len Peneha, A former neighbour of the mosque who saved several people, said he was pleased for all the victims and their families.
“It is a huge relief in my mind, knowing he will be brought to justice. I’m gobsmacked - maybe he does have a conscience after all.”
But Abdul Aziz , who took on the gunman during the attack, said there was a mixture of relief but disappointment that there would be no trial as he wanted to “to find out why and how and get an explanation”.
He said he thinks the gunman has no remorse and nothing will bring back friends and family.
“It’ll be a decision that will divide the community – some will be relieved but for others it’ll bring it all back.”
The gunman, a then 28-year-old Australian, entered the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch on March 15, 2019 opening fire on worshipers with military-grade guns as they gathered for Friday prayers.
Tarrant, who was captured by police shortly after the shootings, had published a white supremacist manifesto online.
A previous court hearing in Christchurch heard two psychiatric assessments had found he was mentally fit enough to enter pleas, instruct lawyers and stand trial.
A bid to move the trial from Christchurch failed in October last year.
He is being held at Auckland Prison at Paremoremo.