William meets first police and medics to attend Christchurch terror attack

By Ellie Cullen, Press Association, in Christchurch

The Duke of Cambridge offered his support as a “good friend” of New Zealand as he met police and medics who were among the first on the scene of the devastating Christchurch mosque attacks.

William, in New Zealand on a two-day trip on behalf of the Queen, spoke to first responders, officers and medics from St John Ambulance as he visited the city’s Justice and Emergency Services Precinct.

He also visited a young survivor of the attack who woke from a coma earlier this week in an Auckland hospital.

Kensington Palace tweeted a video of the private meeting, in which the duke can be seen sitting at the bedside of five-year-old Alen Alsati at Starship Children’s Hospital.

William also met Alen’s father Wasseim, who was also wounded in the mosque shootings.

Describing William’s visit to the country as “wonderful”, New Zealand police commissioner Mike Bush said the “emotion was palpable” as the duke discovered more about how the shootings at two mosques unfolded.

“If I could use the words he used to our staff, ‘a good friend doesn’t pick up the phone when a person is in need – they travel to their place and put their arms around them’,” he said.

Mr Bush said William was concerned with checking how those involved in the response were coping more than a month on from the tragedy.

“He was conscious about them needing to take care of themselves,” he added.

“His main piece of advice was to talk to each other, to not bottle things up – to support each other to talk about what they saw and what they do afterwards.

“There was a moment with all the first responders (where he was) just telling them how important their job was but also the importance of looking after themselves.

“When he said he was there to put his arms around us as a friend and offer support, that really had an impact on us.”

William meets police chief Mike Bush (Marty Melville/AP)

Mr Bush added that it was good to know that “people as important as his royal highness really care about people who have to deal with such tragedies and those people who put their lives on the line to save others”.

As he arrived at the precinct, William asked staff about how the response was co-ordinated and how they put their training into practice in a real-life situation.

“Nothing really trains you for seeing it in real life,” concluded the duke, who spent time as a pilot with the air ambulance service in East Anglia.

“I’m sure the team pulls together,” he said.

The duke also asked how quickly officers and medical staff arrived at the scene, and how quickly the attacks unfolded.

At the police headquarters, dozens of messages from the people of Christchurch – young and old alike – graced the corridors, thanking officers for keeping them safe after the shootings.

Among them was a card signed by Sadie, which read: “Thank you for helping to save all the people in the church. I think you’re all very brave.”

Another said: “You never give up and you never ever will give up trying to save NZ.”

Fifty people were killed and dozens wounded when a gunman opened fire during Friday prayers on March 15.

William is due to meet survivors and their families, as well as Muslim community leaders as part of his visit.

He began his trip in Auckland on Thursday, where he attended an Anzac Day memorial service.

The devastation of the Christchurch shootings is still keenly felt across the country and was reflected on during the service at the city’s war memorial.

“As a nation, we are still grieving for the loss,” said Rear Admiral James Gilmour, Commander Joint Forces New Zealand.

William, travelling without the Duchess of Cambridge or his three children, is visiting New Zealand at the request of prime minister Jacinda Ardern.

William shared a traditional Maori greeting with prime minister Jacinda Ardern (Mark Tantrum/New Zealand Government/PA)

It is not the first time William has been to Christchurch after a tragedy, with the duke also visiting after a devastating earthquake in 2011.

Ms Ardern, who has been praised worldwide for her handling of the mosque attacks, said the duke had a “close connection” with New Zealand, and Christchurch in particular.

“His visit provides the opportunity to pay tribute to those affected by the mosque terrorist attacks and show support to the local and national community,” she said.

“We welcome this visit by his royal highness and know it will bring comfort to those affected.”