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Friday, 15 March, 2002, 22:22 GMT
Drifter guilty of hostel fire murders
Childers backpackers hostel
The hostel was destroyed by the fire
The man accused of killing 15 young backpackers in an arson attack on a hostel in Australia has been found guilty of murder and arson.

Robert Long, an itinerant fruit picker, had denied causing the fire, and his defence team argued it may have started accidentally.

But prosecuting lawyers said the 38-year-old fruit picker's hatred of backpackers was a compelling motive for starting the blaze in June 2000.

Robert Long
The fruit picker is alleged to have hated backpackers
The jury of seven women and four men retired on Thursday but returned unanimous guilty verdicts on Friday.

Among the lives claimed by the blaze in Childers, southern Queensland, were five backpackers from the south of England and two from the Merthyr Tydfil area of south Wales.

Ken Morris, the father of 28-year-old Natalie Morris from Cefn Coed in south Wales, told the BBC that justice had been done.

Maximum life sentence

"I did not think I could be so joyful at this outcome," he said.

"Of course it does not bring my daughter back, but at least we have got justice."

We are fortunate we didn't lose 80 young souls

Bill Trevor
Childers' mayor
Long pleaded not guilty to one count of arson and two murder charges for the deaths of West Australian twins Kelly and Stacey Slarke, who were 27 when they died.

He was not charged with the 13 other deaths because he already faced a maximum life sentence if convicted.

The jury's verdict was unanimous.

BBC correspondent Phil Mercer, in Brisbane, said relatives of the Slarke sisters sobbed in the public gallery as the verdict was read out, one punched the air and shouted "Yes".

Long is expected to be sentenced on Monday after the judge considers reports.


Childers' mayor Bill Trevor said the verdict was confirmation of the system of justice.

"I think families around the world will wake up to this news with a sense of relief that someone will pay for the misery they have brought to the lives of so many people," he said.

Gary Sutton, 24 from Bath
Gary Sutton, 24 from Bath was killed in the fire
A memorial service, to be attended by many survivors and victims' families, is to be held in Childers on 23 June, two years after the blaze.

Prosecutor David Meredith had earlier said the testimony by some 60 witnesses over three weeks had placed Mr Long at the hostel on the night of the blaze.

He said Long had been verbally abusive at times to the hostel's mainly foreign guests and he had confessed to the crime when arrested five days after the blaze in a struggle with police, during which he was shot in the shoulder.

An officer scribbled the confession on a 10 Australian dollar note.

The jury earlier heard he had threatened to kill a young student and was overheard saying he was going to burn the building down.

Long's parents were also in court for the verdict along with police and fire chiefs.

The seven Britons who died were:

  • Gary Sutton, 24 of Twerton, Bath
  • Mike Lewis, 25, from Bristol
  • Natalie Morris, 28, from Cefn Coed
  • Sarah Williams, 23, from Aberfan
  • Melissa Smith, 26, from Thatcham, Berkshire
  • Adam Rowland, 19, from St Leonards, Sussex
  • Claire Webb, 24, from Ascot

The other victims were:

  • Kelly Slarke, Australia
  • Stacey Slarke, Australia
  • Moulay Lalaou-Kamia, Australia
  • Joly van der Velden, Holland
  • Sebastian Westerveld, Holland
  • Julie O'Keefe, Republic of Ireland
  • Hui-Kyong Lee, South Korea
  • Atsuski Toyona, Japan

The BBC's Jonathan Head
"It was one of Australia's worst tragedies"
Keith O' Brien survived the fire
"We still need to take the hostel owners to court for negligence"
Ken Morris' daughter Natalie died in the fire
"I feel I can get on with my life now"
See also:

15 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Crime that scarred Australia
11 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Arson suspect 'confessed after being shot'
08 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Rescuer tells how hostel fire took hold
22 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
At the Childers hostel fire trial
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