Australia

Australian state orders inquest into deadly 1973 firebombing

Inside Brisbane's Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub following the fatal fire Image copyright ABC
Image caption The firebombing at a Brisbane nightclub killed 15 people

An Australian state government has ordered an inquest into a 1973 firebombing which was then the nation's worst mass murder.

Fifteen people died when two fuel drums were set alight in the foyer of Brisbane's Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub.

Two men were jailed, but speculation that others were possibly involved has been fuelled this week by a separate murder case.

The Queensland coroner will re-examine the firebombing.

What happened at the time?

Ten men and five women died when flames engulfed the nightclub, trapping many victims between a stage and a fire escape.

A coroner's inquest began immediately but lasted less than two days before the arrests of two men, James Finch and John Stuart.

Although maintaining innocence, the pair were convicted over the crime and jailed.

Image copyright ABC
Image caption Two men were arrested soon after the tragedy

Stuart died in prison in 1979. Nine years later, Finch, a Briton, was released from prison and deported home.

What is new?

On Thursday, two men were sentenced to life in prison over a separate case involving the deaths of a Brisbane mother and her two daughters in 1974.

The bodies of Barbara McCulkin, 34, and her daughters Vicki, 13, and Leanne, 11, have never been found.

But a court convicted Vincent O'Dempsey, now 78, of their three murders, and Garry Dubois, 70, of two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter.

During O'Dempsey's trial, the court heard he may have been motivated to kill Mrs McCulkin over fears she could implicate him in the nightclub firebombing.

What do authorities say?

Queensland Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath asked the coroner to re-open the nightclub case, saying there was clearly "significant public interest in getting answers".

"Given recent events, witnesses who have previously not been willing to come forward, might now be willing to provide new information," she said on Friday.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she hoped an inquest would provide "closure".

"The Whiskey Au Go Go tragedy is etched in the memory of many Queenslanders," she said.

Australia's worst mass murder was a shooting at Port Arthur in Tasmania in 1996 in which 35 people died.