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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 08:02 GMT
Australia condemns hostel fire killer
Kelly and Stacey Slarke
Australian twins Kelly and Stacey Slarke died in the fire
test hello test
By Phil Mercer in Sydney
Robert Long's arson attack on a youth hostel in the northern Australian town of Childers is described in the local newspapers as the country's worst mass murder since the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.

Then, more than 30 people were shot dead by a deranged gunman.

Robert Long
The fruit picker is said to have hated backpackers
At Childers two years ago, 15 people died at the hands of an arsonist described in court as "cowardly" and "evil".

Brisbane's Courier Mail said of Long's trial: "Horrific images of the young adventurers waking up to a fire they had no chance of escaping flashed up with every bitter twist to the tale over three heart-wrenching weeks of evidence in the Supreme Court."

The victims came from a half a dozen countries; seven were from the UK, with others from Australia, Holland, Ireland, Japan and South Korea.

Staring out from every newspaper is the face of Robert Long, the 38-year-old drifter, found guilty of starting the fire.

The Sunday Mail in Brisbane says: "Long is a worthless specimen of humanity."

The fire broke out in the early hours of 23 June 2000. The date is scarred onto the memories of people around the world.

Hostel after the fire
The hostel has now been bulldozed
The Sunday Mail says Long's conviction "effectively closes a terrible chapter in Queensland history."

The tragedy had "seared the hearts of parents around the world," it says.

In an editorial, the tabloid believes the community's anger will always remain. The victims were "vibrant, gregarious and adventurous" and died at the hands of a man "who emerges as a drunkard, a liar, a bully and a racist."

The Courier Mail attempts to delve into the mind of the man who barely showed any emotion during his trial. It says a "typical arsonist is a white man who may be motivated by feelings of revenge, rejection or sexual inadequacy."

Under the headline "Burning Rage" the paper explores Long's motives for torching the old wooden hostel in the middle of the night.

He knew more than 85 people were crammed inside asleep, tired after a gruelling day picking fruit and vegetables on nearby farms.

"Rob Long craved two things - attention and sympathy," writes reporter Simon Lomax. "When he didn't get them, he got angry and used fire to unleash his revenge on an uncaring world."

The paper details Long's criminal past and how he was a "major suspect" in three other fire investigations - including one incident when he allegedly torched a caravan as his wife and child slept inside.

The Gold Coast Bulletin criticises the trial judge for not sending Long to jail forever.

"Mass killer's sentence inadequate," says the headline for its editorial. "Does society feel comfortable about this man being promised freedom even though he wilfully snuffed out so many young lives?"

"The justice system is placing a diminishing value on human life," claims the paper. It calculates Long will serve less than 18 months imprisonment for each of his victims if he is given parole at the end of his minimum sentence.

See also:

18 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Life sentence for hostel fire killer
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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