Warners Bay post office inquest: Stephen Hodge shot four times after lunging at police with large knife

SCENE: Police investigating the shooting of Warners Bay Australia Post worker Stephen Hodge on September 9, 2015. Picture: Marina Neil
SCENE: Police investigating the shooting of Warners Bay Australia Post worker Stephen Hodge on September 9, 2015. Picture: Marina Neil

A WARNERS Bay postal worker who was shot dead by police after “lunging” at two officers in the car park of his work had a long history of mental illness and alcoholism, a coronial inquest has heard.

For more than six years leading up to the fatal confrontation with police, Stephen Hodge’s life had followed a pattern. 

He could go long periods without an issue at work, but several times a year Mr Hodge would behave erratically or unprofessionally, be sent home, subsequently assessed by a doctor or mental health team, medicated, assessed again and then, ultimately, deemed fit to return to work. 

Among those instances of strange behaviour included telling co-workers he had ordered a book about “how to kill the staff at Warners Bay post office” and telling a customer he would take her photograph with her top off. 

But September 9, 2015, the day Mr Hodge would die, started like any other. 

He was “bright and cheerful” in the morning, only to head to a bottle shop at 10am and buy a cask of wine. 

Mr Hodge was spotted surreptitiously drinking the wine at a Warners Bay cafe over lunch and disappeared from work for several hours without notice.

When he returned he and his boss, postal manager Brendan Hogan, argued and Mr Hodge was sent home.

He was spotted about 2.45pm looking “disheveled and intoxicated” near Coles and soon after purchased a 30cm kitchen knife from the supermarket self-checkout.

CCTV cameras captured him talking on the phone for two minutes, with call records showing he had called home to speak to his mother.

His mother, Janet, later told police her son told her: “you’re going to see me on the news tonight”. 

Suddenly, Mr Hodge appeared at the rear of the post office with a large knife and blood on his hands.

He chased Mr Hogan through the store, outside, down the footpath and into the rear car park where a terrified Mr Hogan managed to get into the back door. 

With police on their way, several passersby tried to convince a bleeding and agitated Mr Hodge to drop the knife. Mark Dolbel, a regular customer, said he used his belt to try and secure the gates to the car park, only for Mr Hodge to push them open.

Then two constables arrived on scene, drew their weapons and for the next 40 seconds or so repeatedly pleaded with Mr Hodge to drop the knife. With one of the policemen trapped on the inside of the gate and with Mr Hodge advancing, the officers opened fire, shooting him four times.  

“There was no ambiguity about what he intended to do,” Mr Dolbel said.

“He was going to stab one of them.”