Robert Paul Long who was found guilty of lighting the fatal Palace Backpackers Hostel fire at Childers in which 15 were killed on March 11, 2002.
Robert Paul Long who was found guilty of lighting the fatal Palace Backpackers Hostel fire at Childers in which 15 were killed on March 11, 2002.

Childers backpacker murderer in line for parole

Queensland mass murderer - Robert Paul Long - is eligible for parole within weeks, 20 years after he killed 15 people in the Childers Palace Backpackers fire.

Long, a drifter who kept to himself, was convicted of lighting the horrific fire and killing the backpackers at the hostel in June 2000.

He was sentenced to life in jail with a 20-year non-parole period set down by the courts.

Now aged 56, he could technically be granted parole in weeks.

The horrific fire sent shockwaves around the world, with backpackers from England, the Netherlands, Japan, Ireland, South Korea and Australia murdered.

Long had been staying at the hostel but left owing money.

Nine days later, on June 23, he lit a fire inside the building just after midnight.

Earlier that evening he said he wanted to "bash" a backpacker he didn't like.

Long started a fire in a bin in the hostel's lounge area while 88 people - most of them asleep in their beds - were inside.

 

Police and SES officers outside Palace Backpackers Hostel in Childers the fire that killed 15 people. Pic Anthony Weate.
Police and SES officers outside Palace Backpackers Hostel in Childers the fire that killed 15 people. Pic Anthony Weate.

Fifteen people, many aged in their 20s, were killed.
Long fled but was tracked by specialist police five days later.

When he was confronted, Long lunged at a police dog - and then the dog's handler - with a knife.

A Special Emergency Response Team officer shot him in the ear.

Long, who wrongly believed he'd been seriously wounded, said: "I'm dying anyway, I started the fire."

A police officer wrote the confession on a $10 note as he didn't have anything else to write on.

Stacey and Kelly Slarke died in the fire.
Stacey and Kelly Slarke died in the fire.

Long was charged with two of the murders, twins Kelly and Stacey Slarke, and with arson.

A jury returned guilty verdicts in 2002.

He appealed his convictions in the Court of Appeal, which were dismissed and then applied to the High Court of Australia for special leave to appeal but this was also refused.

Former Childers Mayor and now Bundaberg councillor Bill Trevor said authorities should never release Long.

"I'd be happy if they threw the key away and left him there," he said.

"Robert Long was convicted of killing two people but we acknowledge the fact that 13 other people died in the fire.

"I would be happy to see him rot in jail until he dies.

"I would find it very difficult to meet him in the street in 12 months, very difficult."

Bill Trevor outside the burnt out building in 2000. Picture: Paul Burtell
Bill Trevor outside the burnt out building in 2000. Picture: Paul Burtell


Mr Trevor said he walked past the Palace every day of the week.

"I think of the families both here in Australia and overseas and what has been torn away from them, the loss and the hurt and the pain that they suffer never being able to see their loved ones again," he said.

Officer-in-charge of Childers Police Station Sergeant Geoff Fay, recounting the horrific tragedy 20 years ago, said police had checked up on Long before the fire.

"I remember one of the officers had mentioned his name there before the fire and obviously when there's someone new in town, we'll check their details and see if they're wanted," he told The Courier-Mail.

"To see what form they'd had. Often you get people come into town and they're wanted on warrants.

Officer-in-charge of Childers Police Station Sergeant Geoff Fay. Picture: Paul Beutel
Officer-in-charge of Childers Police Station Sergeant Geoff Fay. Picture: Paul Beutel

"You can see that police in other areas have had trouble with them, so you keep an eye on them and find out where they are.

"The sooner you can identify those people, the sooner you can get on top of managing people in your town."

Sgt Fay said the murders had left their mark on the town.

"Obviously the town sort of felt that part of it died, I suppose," he said.

"It happened in our town, while we were here. Our own kids travel all over the world and you think, that's the last thing you'd ever want to happen (with) your child over the other side of the world."

If he was to be released, Long would remain on parole for the rest of his life.

A spokesman for Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath said the matter was for the parole board.

Originally published as Childers backpacker murderer in line for parole



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