New inquest for Whiskey Au Go Go begins in June – Brisbane Times) (18 March 2021)

Tony Moore from the Brisbane Times reports;

Two weeks have been set aside in late June for a new inquest into Brisbane’s horrific Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub firebombing in Fortitude Valley on March 8, 1973, that killed 15 people.

A pre-inquest hearing will be held next month on April 29 and 30.

Barristers Stephen Keim and Avelina Tarrago have been briefed as counsel assisting state coroner Terry Ryan by a taskforce of detectives who have gathered evidence for more than three years.

Mr Keim received the Human Rights Medal from the Australian Human Rights Commission for his successful defence of Indian-born doctor Mohamed Haneef, who had his visa cancelled in 2007 and was falsely accused of aiding terrorists.

Ms Tarrago is a former federal prosecutor with the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions and president of the Indigenous Lawyers Association of Queensland.

It was 48 years ago when two 18-litre barrels of petrol were used to set fire to the nightclub, on the corner of Amelia Street and St Pauls Terrace, just after 2am.

Two career criminals, John Andrew Stuart and James Richard Finch, were quickly arrested.

Stuart and Finch were each found guilty of murdering Jennifer Denise Davie, one of the 15 nightclubbers who died at the popular club that night, and sent to Boggo Road Prison.

But questions persisted, with crime experts repeatedly asking who else was involved and why the nightclub was set alight.

Eight years ago, crime writer Tony Reeves asked the Queensland Parliament for a new inquest into links between fires at four Brisbane nightclubs before the 1973 Whiskey Au Go Go fire.

He had researched fires at Torino’s Nightclub in Ann Street on February 23, 1973, Alice’s Cafe in Brunswick Street in December 1972, and two at Chequers Nightclub in Elizabeth Street in early 1973.

He believed the Whiskey Au Go Go fire was an insurance job done under a climate of fear that Stuart perpetuated, manipulated by crooked police officers in Queensland and NSW at the time.

Department of Defence researcher Geoff Plunkett, who spent five years researching the original investigating police officers’ notes, also argued a new inquest was needed.

The original Whiskey Au Go Go inquest was adjourned on March 12, 1973, immediately after Stuart and Finch were arrested.

Queensland’s former attorney-general Yvette D’Ath ordered a fresh inquiry in June 2017, the day after two other Brisbane criminals, Vincent O’Dempsey and Garry Dubois, were sentenced to life in prison for murdering Brisbane mother Barbara McCulkin and her two daughters, Vicki and Leanne, in 1974.

At O’Dempsey’s trial evidence was given that he may have been motivated to kill Ms McCulkin because he believed she was about to implicate him in Brisbane nightclub bombings.

O’Dempsey denied being involved in firebombing any nightclub.

Stuart died in 1979. Finch was deported to London in 1988.

On Thursday, Queensland’s Department of Justice said it was not possible to extradite a witness to give evidence at an inquest, when asked if Finch would be returned from London to answer questions.

In 2018 Ms D’Ath said how the inquest was run was matter for the state coroner.

“Mr Finch is not wanted on any criminal charges in Queensland so extradition proceedings are not warranted in this case,” Ms D’Ath said.

However, former Queensland police commissioner Ian Stewart said in 2018 he wanted Finch returned to Queensland to answer questions about the Whiskey Au Go Go tragedy.