Whiskey Au Go Go firebombing – ABC News Online (24 September 2018)

By Peter McCutcheon with Photos from Geoff Plunkett’s ‘The Whiskey Au Go Go Massacre’.


The sister of a man killed in the 1973 firebombing of Brisbane nightclub Whiskey Au Go Go says she hopes a new inquest will finally discover the truth of what really happened.

“I’d like to know who gave that order to go and do such an evil act,” Helen Palethorpe told 7.30.

Her brother Leslie was one of 15 who were killed in the fire. He was only 20.

Speaking out for the first time since the Queensland Government ordered the inquest last June, Ms Palethorpe said the tragedy had affected many peoples’ lives.

“Let’s have the truth, let’s have the reason why my beautiful brother had to die that night,” she said.


The Whisky Au Go Go in Fortitude Valley went up in flames after two drums of diesel fuel were set alight in the building foyer.

Police quickly arrested two men — James Finch and John Stuart — who were subsequently convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

But there is evidence others were also involved in the crime.

The new inquest is expected to examine why police at the time didn’t investigate further, and why corrupt NSW detective Roger Rogerson was involved in the original investigation.

Rogerson, who is currently serving a life sentence for a 2014 murder, reportedly told a newspaper he has no “new or secret evidence”.

But Queensland crime author Matt Condon, who is writing a book on the Whiskey Au Go Go tragedy, says one possible theory is that police were protecting someone.

“From my understanding and research, police didn’t proceed because one of the unnamed individuals associated with the Whiskey Au Go Go firebombing was an informant to a very senior corrupt police officer,” he said.

After being deported to the UK in 1988, Finch admitted at least two other men were involved in the crime.


One of the men he named, Vincent O’Dempsey, was convicted last year for the 1974 murders of Barbara McCulkin and her two daughters.

The prosecution argued his motive was to keep Barbara McCulkin quiet about his involvement in the Whiskey Au Go Go fire.

“That coming to light sort of sparked it up again,” Ms Palethorpe said.

“I’ve had indications of police corrupt, government corrupt, I’ve been told it could be because of an insurance claim — let’s have the truth.”

Retired police officer Hunter Nicol, who was in the nightclub at the time of the firebombing, was more reluctant to speculate about the reasons for attack.

“It’s like anything, people have theories on the JFK assassination or the moon landing,” he told 7.30.

“They could be right, they could be wrong, so I’ll leave it to the coroner.”

Nonetheless, he welcomed the new inquest, expected to get underway in the new year.

“There are questions people want answered, undoubtedly,” he said.

“Whether they’ll get the answers they’re looking for is another matter.”