Court Witness Admits To Role In 40-Year-Old Brisbane Nightclub Arson

25 November 2015 | 2:06 pm | Staff Writer

"We were commissioned to do it for an insurance job," Peter Hall has told Brisbane Magistrates Court

A Brisbane court presently adjudicating one of the state's most infamous unsolved murder mysteries has inadvertently yielded new information about the 1973 fire that burnt down former nightclub Torino's after an associate of the defendants apparently admitted to their role in causing the blaze.

According to the ABC, committal hearing witness Peter Hall — giving evidence at the trial of 68-year-old Gary Reginald Dubois and 76-year-old Vincent O'Dempsey for the murders for Barbara McCulkin, 34, and her young daughters — told the Brisbane Magistrates Court that he, Dubois and other associates were ordered by O'Dempsey to burn down Torino's "for an insurance job". The Brisbane Times adds that Hall claimed the reason for the job was because "apparently the nightclub wasn't doing too well".

The fresh information in the Torino's case comes in the wake of a call in 2013 from crime writer Tony Reeves to re-open investigations into a ream of nightclub fires in the city throughout the early 1970s, including Torino's (23 February 1973), Alice's Cafe (Brunswick Street, December 1972) and Chequers Nightclub (Elizabeth Street, twice in 1973), as well as the notorious Whiskey Au Go Go blaze that claimed 15 lives and for which two men, John Andrew Stuart and James Richard Finch, were convicted. (Stuart died in prison following a six-day hunger strike, while Finch was eventually sent back to England, where he confessed and later recanted.) 

However, despite admitting his part in the Torino's fire — for which the men were apparently paid $500, and was carried out only when they were sure no one was inside — Hall was adamant that he and his associates were not involved in the Whiskey Au Go Go fire.

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"[I was concerned] only on the basis if they found out we did the job at Torino so they may have thought we had something to do with that too," Hall told the court, according to The Chronicle.

The hearing is ongoing; Hall's cross-examination is scheduled for tomorrow.