Yet another from ‘Teacher’s Pet’ legendary investigative journalist David Murray;
Queensland nightclub boss John Hannay was a key suspect in the catastrophic Whiskey Au Go Go firebombing, with strong motives for wanting the club burned to the ground, it has been claimed.
Hannay’s death last Friday at the age of 74 has opened the floodgates to accusations that he was behind the 1973 Whiskey fire in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley that killed 15 people, one of Australia’s worst mass murders.
He was expected to be a key figure at an upcoming new inquest into the fire. His death may have dealt a fatal blow to the chances of getting to the truth.
Author and historian Geoff Plunkett, who had access to previously unseen police files on the firebombing, told The Weekend Australian that on legal advice he had redacted from his book The Whiskey Au Go Go Massacre significant sections on Hannay.
“Based on circumstantial evidence, I concluded Hannay was a prime suspect,” he said.
William Stokes came to the same view as editor of the Port News, a publication associated with the Waterside Workers Federation, when in 1975 he publicly nominated Hannay as a suspect “as the only man to financially profit from the Whiskey”.
“The mastermind is dead,” Mr Stokes said yesterday, while revisiting the former Whiskey site on the fire’s 46th anniversary.
Hannay made for a confused witness at the 1973 trial of James Finch and John Stuart over the deadly blaze, saying he had retrograde amnesia after falling off a horse. With a doctor by his side during his evidence, he denied any involvement.
Mr Plunkett said tens of thousands of dollars went missing from the Whiskey, a successful club inexplicably facing financial ruin, before the fire. Owners Brian and Ken Little went to police and made a fraud complaint, blaming sacked manager Hannay.
Mr Plunkett said Hannay may have been seeking to solve problems he had created by taking money from the club. The Whiskey fire resulted in an insurance payout to the owners, and had the effect of killing off the fraud investigation, he said.
Alternatively, Hannay may have been motivated by revenge after being “humiliated” by the Whiskey’s owners. Whiskey staff had also savagely bashed Hannay and he had blamed the owners.
“I don’t believe they intended to kill people,” Mr Plunkett said.
Hannay’s history of dodgy dealings played into suspicions. His own business, Alice’s Food Bar, went up in flames before the firebombing. He had taken out a new insurance note on Alice’s less than a fortnight earlier.
MP Kevin Hooper used parliamentary privilege in 1981 to name Hannay as one of four Queensland mafia godfathers of crime, calling him a “shadowy businessman who does not pay his debts”. Hannay went on to be sentenced to a year’s jail in 1983, for misappropriating the superannuation payout of a deceased employee.
In another red flag, Hannay was seen dropping Stuart off at the Whiskey just days before the firebombing. Stuart and Finch were convicted, protesting their innocence from behind bars. But when Finch was released and deported to Britain he admitted he lit the blaze and named the others he said were involved.
Mr Plunkett said there was ample evidence police rushed the investigation and fabricated evidence to ensure only Stuart and Finch were charged. Other culprits, possibly Hannay included, escaped justice as a result.
Mr Stokes said he was convinced corrupt police protected the Whiskey firebombers. Hannay sent him a message to this effect, he said. “He said he wasn’t worried, ‘They can’t touch me unless they arrest the coppers, and they won’t arrest them.’ ”
Donna Phillips, a waitress and cashier at the Whiskey on the night of the fire, said survivors and victims’ families knew Hannay had been unwell and had hoped he would help get to the bottom of the story. “That’s another big figure gone from the scene. We’re all none the wiser,” she said.