Previously unseen police files have shed new light on the Whiskey Au Go Go firebombing, suggesting former detective Roger Rogerson admitted fabricating a crucial confession that led to two men being convicted of the crime.
Investigative files on the torching of the Brisbane nightclub 45 years ago, which resulted in 15 deaths in what was then Australia’s worst massacre, have been sealed for decades at Queensland’s State Archives under an order preventing their release for 100 years.
But historian and author Geoff Plunkett was granted permission to sift through the eight boxes of evidence, before the Queensland government last year ordered a new inquest into the firebombing.
He says the documents add to longstanding claims that police fabricated evidence and prematurely closed the inquiry, leaving some culprits to remain free.
“The result of the perjury was not innocent — there were a series of murders as a result,” Plunkett says.
The fresh inquest was ordered after Vincent O’Dempsey and Garry Dubois were last year given life sentences over the murder of Barbara McCulkin and her daughters Vicki and Leanne in 1974.
O’Dempsey’s trial was told he murdered McCulkin because of fears she could have implicated him in the Whiskey atrocity.
The only two men charged and convicted over the blaze, James Finch and John Stuart, protested their innocence from the outset.
After being released on parole and sent back to Britain, Finch admitted in a 1988 newspaper interview that he lit the blaze and named the others he said were involved: his co-accused Stuart, O’Dempsey, Barbara McCulkin’s husband Billy McCulkin, petty criminal Thomas Hamilton and a senior Brisbane detective. Finch maintained police fabricated an unsigned record of interview containing his “confession”, in which he was said to have claimed only he and Stuart were involved.
In response, one of the six detectives who witnessed the confession gave an anonymous interview to The Bulletin in 1988, admitting police verballed Finch.
“He was as guilty as sin. He got what he deserved,” the detective said. “He was given a terrible hiding. He was handcuffed to a chair and we knocked the s..t out of him.
“We all laid into him with our fists. The bastard didn’t utter one bloody word. He just sat there and copped an almighty hiding. In the end, we said, ‘Right, f..k you, smart-arse, we’ll do it our way’.
“Fabrication of evidence was something we all took for granted. You know when it’s right.”
The sealed police files include a confidential report dated March 8, 1992, that concluded Rogerson was the source for the article.
The report followed a four-year internal investigation, codenamed Operation Graveyard, into the firebombing and murders. Ironically, the investigation was ordered by then acting police commissioner Ron Redmond, who had typed Finch’s allegedly fabricated record of interview before rising up the ranks. Rogerson was by then dismissed from the NSW police and declined to be interviewed for the investigation.
“An examination of the unsigned Record of Interview reveals the initials R.C.R. on each page,” the 1992 police report states. “These are the initials of then Detective Sergeant Rogerson. In this event, if the allegations are true, then Rogerson himself is liable to possible criminal prosecution.
“The fact remains that this record of interview has been witnessed by five other police officers, tested in every area of appeal, and has remained intact, until spurious allegations have now been made by a totally discredited, ex-police officer.”
The report, compiled by the head of the homicide squad, Detective Inspector Warren Smithers, concludes: “There is insufficient evidence available to charge any police member with official misconduct or breach of duty as the situation currently stands.”
Plunkett has based a new book, The Whiskey Au Go Go Massacre, on the sealed police files. He said the upcoming inquest should ensure key witnesses “are made to appear and give testimony”.
Rogerson is serving a life sentence after being convicted in 2016 of the drug-deal murder of Sydney student Jamie Gao.
The author of the 1988 article in The Bulletin, Bruce Stannard, declined to tell police his source at the time. He said he had no comment, when contacted by The Weekend Australian this week.