Politics

Nightclub owner Kenneth Little denies insurance claims at inquest


An inquest into the 1973 firebombing of the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub continues.
An inquest into the 1973 firebombing of the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub continues.

The former owner of a Brisbane nightclub razed in a firebombing 48 years ago has denied arranging the fatal blaze as an insurance job during a tense cross-examination at an inquest.

Kenneth Little was on Monday grilled about the March 1973 attack on the Whiskey Au Go Go, which killed 15 people.

During the cross-examination, Mr Little denied suggestions put to him by barrister Chris Minnery about him or his brother having a role in planning the firebombing.

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“You were back in business pretty quick for someone who didn’t get insurance,” Mr Minnery said.

“I did not do what you are saying,” Mr Little responded.

The aftermath of the 1973 firebombing of the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub in Fortitude Valley.
The aftermath of the 1973 firebombing of the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub in Fortitude Valley.

The firebombing was one of the worst mass murders in modern Australian history until the 1996 Port Arthur massacre.

The victims died from carbon monoxide poisoning after two petrol drums were ignited on the venue’s ground floor.

John Andrew Stuart and another man, James Richard Finch, were convicted of murder and arson but questions and allegations about the involvement of others have persisted for years.

The inquest seeks to identify if anyone else was involved or had any prior knowledge of the attack, as well as examine the adequacy of initial police investigations.

Interior pictures of the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub taken by police at the time of the fire.
Interior pictures of the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub taken by police at the time of the fire.

On Monday, the court was told a meeting took place days before the fire about the liquidation of three clubs including Whiskey Au Go Go, Chequers and Jet.

Counsel assisting the coroner Stephen Keim said liquidators were present along with club owners and the discussion progressed to “insurance claims as a possible solution to the financial situations of these clubs”.

He asked Mr Little if he’d heard of such a meeting taking place, which he denied.

“Are you aware of any discussions taking place before the fire that would suggest there was a plan by someone to burn the Whiskey in order to claim insurance?” Mr Keim asked.

Kenneth Little, one of the nightclub’s former owners, leaves the Magistrates Court in Brisbane. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled
Kenneth Little, one of the nightclub’s former owners, leaves the Magistrates Court in Brisbane. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled

“Definitely not,” Mr Little answered.

Mr Little gave evidence he had arrived at the fire from the Chequers nightclub and remembered seeing “smoke everywhere”, and bodies being brought out of the venue.

He said he did not recall telling another person “I told them this would happen” upon arriving.

The court heard Stuart had previously threatened to attack the nightclub but Mr Little had dismissed the warning because Stuart was “an idiot”.

Mr Minnery, representing convicted murderer Vincent O’Dempsey, put to Mr Little he or his brother arranged the fire and it was in order to claim insurance.

“Your statements at the scene afterwards are you regretting people died from the fire you arranged, isn’t it?” Mr Minnery asked.

“No,” Mr Little said.

John Andrew Stuart.
John Andrew Stuart.
James Richard Finch.
James Richard Finch.

The inquest was sparked by explosive claims at the 2017 murder trials of O’Dempsey and another man, Gary Dubois.

Both men were convicted of the 1974 killing of Barbara McCulkin and her two daughters, Vicki and Leanne.

During their trial, it was alleged Mrs McCulkin was murdered out of fear she may implicate O’Dempsey over his alleged role in the firebombing.

Stuart died in prison in 1979 while Finch was deported to England after serving his sentence and died last year.

No one else has ever been charged over the fire.

The inquest continues.

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