St Basil’s bosses face court in bid to avoid fronting inquest

Two former managers at St Basil’s Homes for the Aged in Fawkner, where 50 residents died during a coronavirus outbreak, have begun their Supreme Court bid to avoid giving evidence to State Coroner John Cain because it may incriminate them in any future criminal prosecution.

Kon Kontis was the chairman at St Basil’s and Vicky Kos the director of nursing during the outbreak in 2020 at the aged care home, where , likely from neglect.

On Thursday, the pair asked Supreme Court judge Stephen O’Meara to stop Cain forcing them to give evidence at his inquest into the deaths.

Kontis and Kos have repeatedly refused to explain why so many died while they were running the home. On legal advice, I object to giving evidence on the ground that it may tend to incriminate me, Kontis told Cain during a five-week coronial inquest held in late 2021. Kos gave an identical response.

Under the Coroners Act, a witness may decline to give evidence if it is likely to incriminate them. However, the coroner can overrule this if it is in the interests of justice for the person to be forced to give evidence.

Cain said it was in the interest of justice that Kontis and Kos gave evidence. Both played central roles in the management of St Basil’s during the outbreak and were the only people to refuse to give evidence at the inquest.

Kontis and Kos ran the home from the moment the outbreak began, on July 9, until July 22 when the Victorian government stood down all staff. At that stage, 40 of the home’s 117 residents had COVID-19, along with 18 staff. The deadly virus had spread to 94 vulnerable residents by the time the home was evacuated on July 31.

Workers at the home were replaced with an inexperienced emergency workforce managed by the federal government that, within hours of the handover, struggled to care for the mostly Greek-speaking residents, who missed meals and medication.

If Kontis and Kos did give evidence to Cain, it would be subject to an order that anything they said could not be used in a criminal prosecution against them.

But their barrister Ian Hill, QC, said on Thursday that this would not prevent their evidence from surfacing in other matters – including in an ongoing WorkSafe investigation into what played out at St Basil’s.

Hill also took issue with Cain’s decision in December last year to have an informal hearing where he heard from the families of those who died.

During that hearing, Cain sat at the bar table with the families of the dead, and asked them to call him John.

Also during that hearing, one family member accused Kontis and Kos of lacking courage, and of negligence and incompetence that led to the deaths of 50 people. Another family member implored Cain to require the pair to give evidence.

The two-day hearing concludes on Friday.

With AAP

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