Whiskey Au Go Go inquest: Witness tells of owner’s ‘threat’ after 15 die in fatal nightclub firebombing

Blake AntrobusNCA NewsWire
Not Supplied
Camera IconNot Supplied Credit: News Limited

A woman who frequented a prominent nightclub that was firebombed in the 1970s - killing 15 people - has testified she and her partner were told by one of the venue’s owners to “shut our traps” about who started the deadly blaze.

The shocking claim from witness Vivienne Spooner came as the second set of coronial hearings into the deadly firebombing of the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub resumed in Brisbane Coroners Court this week.

The inquest has been rocked by controversy since it began last year.

Exterior pictures of the Whiskey Au Go Go taken by police at the time of the fire.
Camera IconExterior pictures of the Whiskey Au Go Go taken by police at the time of the fire. Credit: Supplied

On March 8, 1973, two petrol drums on the ground floor of the nightclub were ignited, spewing poisonous fumes up into the venue.

Fifteen people died from carbon monoxide poisoning while trying to escape.

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

On Tuesday, Ms Spooner told the court she and her then-partner Julian Burley were visited by Brian Little, one of the club’s owners, within the week of the fire.

The pair had frequented the venue as Mr Burley worked at a nearby petrol station.

Ms Spooner told the court she saw Mr Little’s car pull up on their street as they were returning home one evening.

She said Mr Burley went over to speak to Mr Little.

WHISKY AU GO GO
Camera IconCounsel assisting the coroner Stephen Keim leaving Brisbane Magistrates Court as the inquest into the fatal 1973 firebombing of the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub resumed. NCA NewsWire / John Gass Credit: News Corp Australia

“He (Julian) was pretty quiet. He said basically ‘We’re to shut our traps about what happened, what we were told’,” Ms Spooner told the court.

She said Mr Little was referring to conversations on the afternoon of the tragedy, when another man claimed venue manager John Bell started the fatal fire for “insurance”.

She said Mr Burley relayed a further threat from Mr Little: “It wouldn’t be good for us if we spoke about it to anybody”.

“We were seriously threatened - I took it very seriously,” Ms Spooner said.

“I just couldn’t believe it … I don’t know how he would know: We never had a discussion with Brian Little or anyone from the club.”

On Monday, a bombshell police report into the blaze was made public, revealing allegations that suspects in the attack were protected from prosecution while criticising early investigations.

The inquest is expected to run until February 11.

Two men, John Andrew Stuart and James Richard Finch, were convicted of murdering waitress Jennifer Davie, the youngest victim of the fire.

undated file pic  John Andrew Stuart , jailed for murder after the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub firebombing. crime qld headshot Picture: File Photo
Camera IconJohn Andrew Stuart. Credit: News Limited
Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub firebombing feb 1988 file pic:James Finch - headshot crime qld  murder 35/A/4432/18 Picture: File Photo
Camera IconJames Richard Finch. Credit: News Limited

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

Last year, the court was told he had died before being called to give evidence.

The inquest is examining the adequacy of police investigations into the firebombing and will identify whether anyone other than Stuart or Finch played a role in the attack.

Originally published as Whiskey Au Go Go inquest: Witness tells of owner’s ‘threat’ after 15 die in fatal nightclub firebombing

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