A CONFUSED pensioner died slowly waiting to be rescued after walking into a shopping centre fire escape and getting trapped for three weeks, an inquest heard.
Retired barber Bernard Gore, 71, could not find the exit at the bottom of the maze of stairwells at Sydney’s giant Westfield centre.
Bernard, from Tasmania, was visiting his daughter in Sydney with his wife of 50 years Angela.
On January 6, 2017, CCTV showed him walking past a number of shops before he went into Westfield Bondi Junction, headed up to the fourth floor and went through fire escape door L407 at 12.50pm.
The door could not be opened from the other side, a coroner heard, and he was apparently not able to find the exit on the ground floor.
A maintenance worker found him slumped forward in a “semi-kneeling position” on January 27.
He had apparently sat on a chair to wait and toppled off after his death one or two weeks before – meaning could have been alive for a week or more trapped in the stairwell.
Angela raised the alarm after Bernard – who had the early stages of dementia – did not meet her as arranged outside Woolworths at 1.15pm.
MAZE OF TUNNELS
It emerged at the inquest that police only did one search of the public areas of shopping centre despite knowing he was vulnerable.
And they did not check CCTV, instead handing responsibility to security guards – who checked only three out of around 100 cameras and concluded he never entered the mall that day.
The inquest also heard the stairwells are checked only once a month unless an alarm is triggered.
There are some six to eight miles of fire stairs in Westfield Bondi Junction, the court heard.
The barrister representing the NSW Commissioner of Police described it as “somewhat of a maze” with “a great many sets of fire doors”.
Authorities searching for him did not look there because they never saw the CCTV of him going into the fire escape, it was said.
His daughter Melinda sobbed as the last footage of her father walking through the door was shown on screens at New South Wales Coroners Court.
“There is no further CCTV footage of Bernard after the time he entered the fire stairs,” said Anna Mitchelmore, counsel assisting the coroner.
Ms Mitchelmore told how his wife searched for him on the day he went missing before returning to their daughter’s home at 2pm.
His family became “increasingly worried” as it got dark and reported him missing to police at 8pm, and later that night to Woolworths and Westfield security.
“Tragically, (it was) not until around 8am on January 27, 2017, that Bernard was found deceased in the fire stairs,” Ms Mitchelmore said.
“His body was found by a maintenance worker at the bottom of the stairwell he had entered.”
She said it had been “immensely distressing for his family” who spent three weeks with no idea where he was – “only for him to be found at the place for which he had set off on January 6.”
His white hat was found in the stairwell along with a handkerchief, dentures, a men’s watch, a black comb, a glasses case and a $5 note.
Bernard’s widow wept and her shoulders shook as she sat in the public gallery hearing the details.
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Mr Gore had left his daughter’s Woollahra house wearing pyjama bottoms underneath his trousers.
The court heard he had previously gone missing in Hobart.
His son, Mark, had bought him a watch with a GPS tracker but Mr Gore didn’t wear it on January 6 as it wasn’t working.
A detective who took charge of the case a year later described the initial investigation as “poor”.
Senior Constable Andrew Agostino said the Westfield mall should have been fully searched and eliminated completely before police looked in other areas.
The inquest continues.