Tougher laws could see new Whiskey Au Go Go inquest this year – Brisbane Times (12 March 2020)

An update on the new Whiskey Au Go Go inquest from Tony;

The families of Brisbane’s murdered Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub victims believe the long-awaited second inquest into the 1973 horrific firebombing where 15 people died may start in May or June.

Attorney General Yvette D’Ath announced a new inquest in June 2017.

The Queensland coroners’ office on Wednesday would not confirm a specific date for the new inquest.

However, it confirmed the inquest will be heard under a tougher, retrospective Coroners Act, which is ready to go to Queensland Parliament.

The new legislation, part of the Justice and Other Amendments Bill, allows the coroner to compel a person to give evidence that incriminates them.

“The modern coronial regime established under the current act includes a power for the coroner to require a witness to give potentially self-incriminating evidence at an inquest if the coroner is satisfied that it is in the public interest to do so,” Ms D’Ath told State Parliament in November 2019.

“However, those powers are not currently available to a coroner with respect to deaths that were reported prior to the commencement of the Coroners Act 2003.”

Under the proposed amendments to the 2003 Coroners Act, it now applies to deaths before 2003, Ms D’Ath said.

“This means that the current act, including the power to require a witness to give evidence at an inquest that would tend to incriminate the witness, will apply to inquests into deaths that were reported before the commencement of the act,” Ms D’Ath said.

“To be clear, this will apply even if the person has claimed the privilege against self-incrimination at a previous inquest under the repealed Coroners Act 1958.”

Queensland’s Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee tabled their report into these proposed changes on February 21 and the bill is ready to go back to State Parliament.

The Queensland Coroner said it was waiting for police to complete the investigation.

“The inquest cannot proceed until that investigation is finalised,” a spokeswoman said.

“Accordingly, no date has been determined at this stage.”

“There is legislation currently before the Queensland Parliament that will permit the inquest to be conducted under the Coroners Act 2003 instead of the Coroners Act 1958. It would be preferable to await passage of that legislation before the inquest is commenced.”

Friends and families of the victims gathered outside the Fortitude Valley site of the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub, which was named after the famous venue in West Hollywood, last weekend to mark 47 years since the firebombing on March 8, 1973.

They have heard suggested inquests dates before but believe it is getting closer.

Danny Stuart, the nephew of John Andrew Stuart, who was one of two men convicted of the Whiskey Au Go Go firebombing in 1973, was a young boy at the time at his family home in Jindalee where his uncle was arrested by police.

On Wednesday he told Brisbane Times he was to be interviewed on Friday by a detective on what he witnessed and heard in those days. He plans to give evidence to the inquest.

He welcomed the planned changes to the Coroners Act.

“I think it is important that people can be compelled to come forward because there are people out here who are hiding the truth,” he said.

Donna Phillips worked as a waitress at the Whiskey Au Go Go club in 1973 where the liquor licence was held by businessman Brian Little and run by club owner John Hannay, who died at 74 on March 1, 2019.

Mr Hannay operated The Beat in Fortitude Valley for more than 35 years.

Ms Phillips now runs a Facebook group for the family and friends of the 15 people murdered at the Whiskey Au Go Go.

“[The new inquest] hasn’t been confirmed yet by the coroner’s office, so at this point it is still just people talking,” she said.

She said families want the new inquest to begin.

“It would bring some sanity back into a turgid past. It would bring some order back into our lives,” she said.

Ms D’Ath announced the new inquest in June 2017, the day after Supreme Court Justice Peter Applegarth sentenced hardened criminals Vincent O’Dempsey and Garry Dubois to life in prison for murdering 34-year-old Highgate Hill mum Barbara McCulkin and her two daughters, 13-year-old Vicki and 11-year-old Leanne.

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.

Brisbane’s Torino’s Nightclub was firebombed on February 25, 1973.

O’Dempsey denies being involved in either firebombing.

Career criminals Stuart and James Richard Finch were convicted of the Whiskey Au Go Go firebombing and one murder in October 1973.

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