A “code grey” alert would have promoted a thorough search of a Sydney shopping centre where a 71-year-old died in a fire stairwell but it was never called, an inquest into his death has heard.
Bernard Gore was found dead in the stairwell at Westfield Bondi Junction in early 2017, three weeks after he went missing.
Under Westfield’s lost children or vulnerable people policy, a “code grey” would have triggered a full search of the centre, including any unlocked recess areas accessible from the mall.
Mr Gore met the definition of vulnerable twice under the policy – he was over 65 years and had a physical or developmental disability. However, no so-called code grey was called.
His wife, Angela, and their daughter, Melinda, reported him missing on January 6 after he failed to meet his wife outside Woolworths as planned earlier that day.
The Tasmanian man, who had early-onset dementia, had walked to the Westfield from his daughter’s Woollahra apartment and entered a fire stairwell where he became trapped.
His body was discovered by a maintenance worker on January 27.
A security officer working the night Mr Gore went missing told the NSW Coroners Court on Tuesday he took a statement from Angela Gore, who said her husband didn’t like dark places or loud noises.
She said there was a piano outside David Jones at Christmas which he liked listening to but it had been removed by the time he went missing.
This information was passed on to the assistant shift supervisor in the shopping centre’s control room, the inquest heard.
The security officer said ordinary closing procedures were followed – including checks of the rooftop, car park and external areas – with staff looking out for Mr Gore.
But the search didn’t include the fire stairwells as they were only checked once a month.
If it had been confirmed that a missing person was, or had been on-site, a direction to search fire stairs or corridors would have come from centre management, the worker said.
Both the assistant supervisor, who also gave evidence on Tuesday, and the security officer spent time reviewing CCTV footage of the centre looking for Mr Gore.
The supervisor told the hearing that following a conversation with an officer from Rose Bay Police Station at 1am the following morning he considered calling a code grey.
But at that stage there’d been no confirmation the elderly man had been at the Westfield, he said.
His understanding was that a code grey should not be initiated until a person had been seen on-site.
Barrister Michelle England, representing NSW Police, asked the supervisor whether he agreed a code grey should have been called, knowing now that Mr Gore died in the stairwell.
“I do agree in hindsight that a code grey or a full centre search should have or could have been called. It would have helped with the issue I believe,” he told the inquest.
“But at the time I didn’t feel it was appropriate with the information I had.”
Another security officer agreed it hadn’t been confirmed Mr Gore had actually arrived at the centre.