Christchurch Mosque shooting: Gunman pleads guilty to murder of 51 people
26 March 2020, 00:18 | Updated: 26 March 2020, 00:32
A white supremacist charged with the murders of 51 people in last year's New Zealand Mosque attack has changed his plea to guilty.
Brenton Tarrant, 29, killed 51 and wounded dozens more in the attack on Al Noor and Linwood Avenue mosques in Christchurch on 15 March 2019.
The Australian national had initially pleaded not guilty and was due to stand trial on 2 June for attack, which was live-streamed on social media.
But during a hearing on Wednesday evening, Tarrant admitted 51 counts of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder and a charge of engaging in a terrorist act.
His victims were aged between three and 77.
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern said the new plea would save those affected by the tragedy the "ordeal" of a trial.
“The guilty plea today will provide some relief to the many people whose lives were shattered by what happened on March 15,” she said.
“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."
The killing spree was the deadliest in New Zealand's modern history and prompted the government to rush through new laws banning most semi-automatic weapons.
His hearing was brought forward, before the country goes into a four-month lockdown to halt the spread of coronavirus.
The speed at which the latest court date came as a surprise to many house-bound New Zealanders.
Police commissioner Mike Bush said: "Arrangements for the court hearing were made at short notice after the defendant indicated, via his counsel on Tuesday afternoon, that he wished to be brought before the court,” Bush said in a statement.
“Police appreciate this news will come as a surprise to the victims and the public, some of whom may have wished to be present in the courtroom.”
Two imams from Al Noor and Linwood Avenue mosques were present during proceedings, acting as representatives of the community.
Survivors and relatives of victims were also told of the news before it was released to the public.
The lockdown meant that Tarrant appeared in the court from his jail cell via videolink and that only a few people were allowed inside the courtroom.
A sentencing date has yet to be set. He faces life in prison.