New twist in Whiskey case as cop says she was told to cut parts of report

A police officer has told the inquest into Brisbane’s deadly Whiskey Au Go Go firebombing that she was ordered last year to remove a chunk of her report about the early investigations into the crime.

Jun 23, 2021, updated Jun 23, 2021
Detective Sergeant Virginia Gray leave the inquest into the 1973 Whiskey Au Go-Go nightclub fire deaths at the Brisbane Coroners Court  (AAP Image/Darren England)

Detective Sergeant Virginia Gray leave the inquest into the 1973 Whiskey Au Go-Go nightclub fire deaths at the Brisbane Coroners Court (AAP Image/Darren England)

Detective Sergeant Virginia Gray said she was told to remove everything from the fourth paragraph of her report to about page 27 after meeting her superiors in September 2020.

The cold case homicide officer – with 27 years of policing experience – was tasked with investigating the 1973 attack that killed 15 people for the coroner before the inquest.

She made the claims last week, but the section of her testimony was the subject of an suppression order that was lifted on Wednesday.

Det Sgt Gray said Detective Inspector Damien Hansen told her he had spoken to the coroner the previous day and “his feedback was that that material should be removed … as they didn’t need references to the early investigation”.

She added there was a discussion involving Detective Senior Sergeant Tara Kentwell in which Gray said she thought it was “a fairly standard thing that early investigative material is in coronial reports”.

“Detective Senior Sergeant Kentwell asked could we have the material in some other way,” she added.

She said Hanson told her he was unhappy with references relating to the original interview on March 11, 1973 with James Richard Finch, who was later convicted over the attack.

“He was unhappy that there was reference to or insinuation that they were verballed,” Gray told the inquest.

An emotional Gray said Hanson told her “that sort of material shouldn’t be included in a report from police … and that we would leave that to the journalists and police haters”.

She sent the amended report as instructed, but later resubmitted the full report believing the information was relevant. Both versions were provided to the coroner’s office.

Gray said she was “a little bit confused by the instruction” because she had gone into detail in earlier meetings about what was going to be included in the report.

“There had never been any issue with having early material in or having any references to the interview stuff in so it … wasn’t consistent,” she added.

State Coroner Terry Ryan said it was “incorrect” that he had given any direction regarding the content of Gray’s report.

“It’s not something that I have ever given a direction about in relation to any police report,” he added.

Finch backflipped on a confession when told he might be charged with a further 14 murder charges, the inquest in Brisbane was told on Wednesday.

Finch claimed his innocence for 15 years while behind bars for one murder, but after being deported to England confessed to being one of three men who carried out the attack.

He seemed “almost enthusiastic” about wanting to speak out, saying it was “time to name names”, former A Current Affair European correspondent Michael Holmes said.

But when presenter Jana Wendt mentioned he could be extradited to Australia and charged with the other deaths it was like “something went flashing through his brain”, Mr Holmes said.

“It was like you saw something in his eyes at that moment,” Holmes, now a CNN International anchor, told the inquest from Atlanta.

On-air Finch first confirmed the confession, but “as the interview progressed those wheels continued to turn until he … basically just did a u-turn on everything”, claiming he had nothing to do with the attack.

Holmes said it was clear “the backtracking was all an act” that “astounded everyone but fooled no one”.

Sonya Lewis, who was nine when her mother Decima Carroll died while working at the Whiskey Au Go Go, told the inquest her family’s “whole world collapsed that day”.

She said the inquest was a “long overdue opportunity to uncover the truth about this horrific tragedy”.

“We are hopeful that the truth will be revealed, that our family will have the closure we have sought for 48 years and that our mother can finally rest in peace at long last,’ she said in a statement read to the inquest.

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