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Australia Detective says she was ordered to omit details of original Whiskey Au Go Go investigation from reopened inquest report

03:25  23 june  2021
03:25  23 june  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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a group of people standing in front of a building: The Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub was firebombed on March 8, 1973, killing 15 people. (Courtesy: Geoff Plunkett, 'The Whiskey Au Go Go Massacre') © Provided by ABC NEWS The Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub was firebombed on March 8, 1973, killing 15 people. (Courtesy: Geoff Plunkett, 'The Whiskey Au Go Go Massacre')

Two current senior Queensland homicide detectives have been accused of trying to exclude key details from a reopened inquest into the Whiskey Au Go Go firebombing, because of an "insinuation" police at the time had fabricated a confession from one of the two men convicted over the tragedy.

After a court suppression order was lifted today, it can now be revealed a Queensland detective who gave evidence last week had told the inquest she was ordered to omit several paragraphs in her official coronial reports which referenced original police interviews.

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James Finch and John Stuart, who have since died, were sentenced to life in prison for the Brisbane nightclub arson attack that killed 15 people in the early hours of March 8, 1973.

A fresh probe into the blaze is trying to determine whether anyone else was involved in the crime and is also examining whether the police investigation at the time was adequate.

Last Thursday, Detective Sergeant Virginia Gray told the inquest that when she was preparing documents for the coroner last year she was told by her two superiors — Detective Senior Sergeant Tara Kentwell and Detective Inspector Damien Hansen — to "remove sections" relating to Finch and his unsigned confession.

Detective Sergeant Gray had recovered the original Whiskey Au Go Go police file while taking part in the cold case investigation of the murders of Barbara McCulkin and her two daughters, which began in 2014.

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In 2017, Vincent O'Dempsey was found guilty of murdering the McCulkins to silence Barbara over her perceived knowledge of two nightclub bombings, including the Whiskey Au Go Go fire.

Last week, Detective Sergeant Gray told the inquest there were "lots of questions" that were not asked during the original investigation, that she believed should have been, and that police appeared to have stopped looking into things when Finch and Stuart were arrested.

"Detective Hansen told me he had spoken to the coroner the day before and that his feedback was that material should be removed, as they didn't need references to the early investigation," she said.

Detective Sergeant Gray told the inquest she was "confused" by the instruction and tried explaining it was "fairly standard" material to include in the reports, but she said she was still directed to take it out.

"I was asked if we could have it in the material in some other way."

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Detective Sergeant Gray told the inquest that, on further questioning of the advice, Detective Inspector Hansen told her he was "unhappy" there was an insinuation police at the time had verballed Finch and "that sort of material shouldn't be included in a report from the police".

When asked if a reason was given to exclude the details, Detective Sergeant Gray told the inquest Detective Inspector Hansen told her to "leave that to the journalists and police haters".

The inquest heard that Detective Sergeant Gray "wasn't comfortable" with the decision, and after getting independent advice she ultimately submitted her original report to the coroner's office, which contained the information about Finch's interviews.

"I believed the material was relevant," she told the inquest.

Coroner denies directing police

During that hearing, State Coroner Terry Ryan told the inquest any inference he instructed the Queensland Police Service to remove the paragraphs was "incorrect".

"It's not something that I have ever given a direction about in relation to any police report," Mr Ryan told the court.

Queensland Police Service lawyer Michael Nicholson confirmed Detective Inspector Hansen had not spoken directly to Magistrate Ryan, but someone from his department had liaised with the "coronial team" about the report, and were told they needed to "cut that down".

However the inquest was told the Coroner's office had only advised the staff member to make "presentation and formatting changes", not to remove details.

"That should explain the misunderstanding of the difference in the two reports," Mr Nicholson said.

Earlier, the inquest was told a former junior police officer at the time, who is also due to give evidence, had revealed to Detective Sergeant Gray that he witnessed detectives organising the extraction of Finch's confession in the original interview.

The inquest was also told the junior officer did not believe Finch would "use those terms" that were included in the unsigned confession.

Senior Queensland detective asked for details to be left out of Whiskey inquest .
A Queensland cold case investigator has claimed a senior homicide detective asked her to remove references in her report to the coroner.

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