South Australia’s Premier has praised the police response at Westfield Marion shopping centre amid “an awful amount of misinformation” during Sunday’s emergency lockdown.

The major multi-storey shopping mall in Adelaide’s south-west was plunged into both chaos and lockdown yesterday afternoon, after a fight allegedly broke out in the food court between two groups of boys.

Three teenagers have been charged with aggravated affray, aggravated assault and aggravated robbery. 

Two of the boys faced the Adelaide Youth Court on Monday. 

The court heard one the accused was experiencing homelessness and “never intended” for the altercation to cause the level of fear that it did.

Prosecutors told the court one of the teenagers was in possession of a machete, and two extendable batons had been confiscated by police. 

Lawyers for one of the accused disputed the use of a machete or knife by the three teenagers charged.

Armed police at Westfield Marion shopping centre carpark during the lockdown.(ABC News: Briana Fiore)

Scenes of panic were captured and shared on social media by shoppers, many of whom were forced to shelter in retail outlets amid an alert and evacuation alarm.

Police said the only injuries, including a 77-year-old woman who suffered a fracture, occurred during the evacuation but not as a result of the alleged fight.

Peter Malinauskas said SA Police “deserved commendation and high praise” for its response and the outcome of a police review would help inform a government assessment of the way the situation was handled.

“There was an awful amount of misinformation that was being communicated. The rumour mill cranked up quickly, which happens in a social media age,” he said.

“The response from Westfield security, I think it was easy to say with hindsight it was an overreaction … but they’ve got to act on the side of caution as well.

“There was rapid public messaging happening within Westfield shopping centre — there’s a question whether or not that messaging reflected what was actually happening.”

The emergency unfolded on Sunday afternoon.(ABC News: Briana Fiore)

He said it was his understanding that the decision to implement an emergency response was made by Westfield.

“The advice I received was that Westfield enacted a range of emergency protocols without much reference to South Australian Police and that would be something that’d be looked at during the course of the police review,” Mr Malinauskas said.

“[But] put yourself in their shoes — they’ve just gone through Bondi.

“The reality is post-Bondi there is a heightened sense of alert from Westfield and shopping centre operators.

“Imagine if it ended up being very serious and they hadn’t escalated their concern quickly, then everyone would be scrutinising that.”

Police outside the complex during the unfolding situation.(ABC News: Justin Hewitson)

Westfield Group has been contacted for comment.

In a statement yesterday, the company said the “safety of our customers, business partners and people is our highest priority”.

Incident followed police operation

Earlier this month, SA Police and Westfield Marion undertook an emergency response drill at the centre, preparing for a worst-case scenario following the Bondi Junction stabbing.

Assistant Commissioner Scott Duval praised the public’s cooperation.(ABC News: Ben Pettitt)

SA Police Assistant Commissioner Scott Duval said he was comfortable with Westfield Marion’s response to Sunday’s emergency, and said the priority was “public safety”.

“The responsibility to put in place an emergency procedure for the centre, that itself lies with Westfield,” he said.

“If you look at the dynamic nature of how these types of offences take place and the information that’s known — and the decisions are made on the information that is known at the time — I’m comfortable that those actions of the centre plus the response by police are all about public safety.

“Our specialist police [STAR group officers] responded very quickly.”

Assistant Commissioner Duval thanked the public for its “high level” of cooperation, and said that police would work with Westfield Marion for any opportunities to “learn and to improve”.

“These are always difficult circumstances in that the information is sometimes not well known, the information can be misconstrued in terms of what types of weapons were involved,” he said.

‘Sigh of relief’

Eyewitness accounts have continued to emerge, with shopper Rebekah McCrindle describing how she sought refuge in a sportswear store with her daughter for two-and-a-half hours after an emergency announcement was made in the mall.

“There was an alert going on, we couldn’t understand what they were saying,” Ms McCrindle said.

“We just kind of kept walking, going ‘what?’ and then a young couple with a baby in a pram pulled us into a sports store and said ‘everyone needs to get in’.”

The mother told ABC News Breakfast an “anxious” staff member ushered about 30 shoppers into a storeroom at the back of the shop.

Ms McCrindle said at the same time her husband and sons could not hear the evacuation alarm inside the centre’s cinema.

“What happened for them was someone stood up and said, ‘we need to evacuate’, and my husband was sort of like, it wasn’t like anyone from staff or anything like that so they kind of waited,” she said.

“People just were running everywhere so he took my boys, who my youngest is eight, up into the emergency exit and then up onto the roof.”

Two people embrace in the shopping centre carpark following the emergency.(ABC News: Briana Fiore)

Ms McCrindle said her children were safe but “a little bit shaken” following the ordeal.

“My daughter and I didn’t even talk, we just kind of arms over one another and just walked quietly to the car and just breathed, I guess, a sigh of relief,” she said.

State MP Sarah Andrews, whose electorate of Gibson includes Marion, praised the “amazing effort” of staff.

“I know of one 19-year-old woman, she’s a manager of a store at Marion. She had to shut down her store and was caring for a pregnant woman for two-and-a-half hours,” she said.

“She really stepped up and people were comforted by her presence and the way she managed the situation.”

Sarah Andrews has praised the retail workers at the Marion shopping centre.(ABC News: Trent Murphy)

Cafe worker Hayley told ABC Radio Adelaide she saw two groups of young people sprint past her workplace and did not think much of it initially.

“Then everybody started panicking, freaking out, got frightened, everybody just started running, screaming,” she said.

“We were stuck in there for about nearly three hours, which was a bit scary.”