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ABC News
court reporter Danny Tran

St Basil's managers lose fight against giving evidence at inquest into COVID aged-care deaths

Seniors managers of a Greek nursing home where dozens of people died after a catastrophic COVID-19 outbreak will be forced to give evidence in a coronial inquest after losing an appeal in Victoria's highest court.

The Court of Appeal today upheld a decision ordering Kon Kontis and Vicky Kos to give evidence in the probe, which is investigating the deaths of 50 people at St Basil's Aged Care Home in Fawkner, in Melbourne's north, in 2020.

Mr Kontis was the chairman of the home at the time, and Ms Kos was the facility manager.

They have argued any appearance at the inquest may lead to self-incrimination.

Their bid to avoid giving evidence came after Worksafe revealed it was conducting a criminal investigation into the deaths and sparked fury among grieving family members.

The pair is still able to appeal today's decision to the High Court of Australia.

Today, John Karantzis from Carbone Lawyers, who is representing the families of the residents who died, praised the decision as a "fantastic result".

"The families will be over the moon," Mr Karantzis said.

He said the decision paved the way for the investigation to continue.

"The families need to know what was happening on those days, during that time when their loved ones were dying and left alone, cold, dying in their own beds at the facility," he said.

Inquest told residents left malnourished, dehydrated

The coronial inquest into the deaths at St Basil's Aged Care Home started in November last year and heard devastating testimony from 55 witnesses.

The coroner was told that care for its elderly residents dropped off dramatically when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in July 2020, and that the federal government struggled to find a replacement workforce after Victorian authorities declared that all local staff were considered close contacts.

The inquest was told that residents were left malnourished and dehydrated and that, within weeks, 50 people had died.

Coroner John Cain originally ordered Mr Kontis and Ms Kos to give evidence at the inquest in November 2021, with both slated as the final witnesses.

But just nine days before they were due to take the stand, Mr Kontis and Ms Kos objected, arguing that the move may prove that they had committed a crime.

Coroner John Cain then ordered the pair to give evidence in "the interests of justice" but they appealed against the decision to the Supreme Court of Victoria.

That appeal was dismissed in August 2022, but Mr Kontis and Ms Kos launched another legal challenge in the Court of Appeal, arguing that the coroner had misinterpreted the law.

Justices Terry Forrest, Kristen Walker and Stephen McLeish today rejected those arguments and upheld the decision by the Supreme Court.

"The appeal must be dismissed," they said.

They ordered Mr Kontis and Ms Kos to pay the legal costs of the Victorian attorney-general, who was named in their lawsuit.

Worksafe alleges PPE failures

Meanwhile, the separate criminal investigation spearheaded by Worksafe was today adjourned in the Melbourne Magistrates' Court to March next year.

WorkSafe investigators are alleging the nursing home operator did not make sure workers wore protective equipment and did not train workers in how to use it.

They also allege St Basil's failed to tell workers when protective equipment should be used, failed to supervise them using the equipment or verify that they were able to competently don and doff the gear.

If convicted, the nursing home provider is facing fines of just under $1.49 million.

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