Tasmanian admits gun massacre

Relief swept across the island of Tasmania yesterday when Martin Bryant, the man who massacred 35 people at Port Arthur six months ago, pleaded guilty in court to all charges against him over the world's biggest mass shooting by a lone gunman.

Staff at Port Arthur, the 19th-century prison for transported British convicts, which is now one of Australia's chief tourist attractions, could barely contain their emotions when the news came through.

They opened bottles of champagne, donned party hats and closed their doors early to hold a celebratory barbecue on the lawn by the seafront where they had watched in horror on Sunday, 28 April, as Bryant stalked through the crowded site, armed with two semi-automatic weapons, shooting tourists and Port Arthur employees at random.

Bryant, 29, admitted to 72 charges over the Port Arthur killings when he appeared in the Tasmanian Supreme Court in Hobart, for the start of what was expected to be an agonising trial, at which hundreds of witnesses were due to be called to relive the horrors of modern Australia's worst massacre.

Only two months ago, he had pleaded not guilty to the same charges. Bryant's lawyer resigned soon afterwards.

The unemployed Hobart man, with long blonde hair, said to be a millionaire from inherited money and property, smirked and laughed as he stood in the dock yesterday, shielded by bullet-proof glass, and answered "Guilty" to each of the charges. People in the public gallery wept. Some relatives and friends of the victims fled sobbing from the court.

After Bryant's dramatic change of plea, John Avery, his new lawyer, said: "We have been doing a lot of talking over the last few weeks. I am gratified that the right decision has now been made." Mr Justice Cox, Tasmania's chief justice, will sentence Bryant on 19 November. The judge issued an edict to staff at Port Arthur not to comment until he hands down his sentence.

But the reaction was already clear. "We're immensely relieved," said David McDonald, a tour guide. "We were dreading the anguish of going through all this in court again. Now we can try to get back to normal." Walter Mikac, a pharmacist whose wife and two young daughters were among those whom Bryant murdered, said Australia must now turn its attention to tightening its gun laws so that a similar massacre never happens again.

Since the Port Arthur massacre, Australians have surrendered more than 130,000 guns under an amnesty introduced as part of a bid to reform the country's lax firearms laws. The weapons are crushed or cut in two before the owner's eyes, then tossed into an ever- increasing stockpile of scrap metal. The federal government in Canberra has taxed every Australian to build a fund of A$500,000 (pounds 250,000) to compensate gun owners under the amnesty, which runs until next October.

Gun laws are the province of Australia's six states. Their notorious reluctance to tighten their laws was shattered by Port Arthur, and most states have since introduced legislation to ban semi-automatic, military- style weapons of the type that Bryant, and gunmen in earlier mass shootings in Sydney and Melbourne, used. Tasmania, which once had the weakest laws, now has some of the toughest. Almost 10,000 banned guns have been surrendered in that state.

However, the surrendered guns are thought to be the tip of an iceberg. Estimates of the number of guns in Australia range from four to 10 million. The rural-based gun lobby is urging people to bury their guns rather than hand them in. And the Australian Coalition for Gun Control has criticised the new laws for still allowing large-scale and semi-automatic pistols, of the type Britain has banned since the Cullen report.

Roland Browne, the coalition's deputy chairman, said in Tasmania yesterday: "Our new gun laws have brought us up to the point that Britain was at before the Cullen report. Australia should draw on the Dunblane experience to minimise the availability of guns."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration Engineer

£24000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: These refrigeration specialists...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Logistics and Supply Chain

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an operational role and...

Recruitment Genius: CNC Sheet Metal Worker / Fabricator

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working within the workshop of ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st / 2nd Line IT Support Engineer

£20000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist high tech compa...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral