Fruit picker guilty of backpackers' murder

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The Independent Online

A homeless fruit picker was today convicted of murder and arson for starting a blaze that tore through an Australian backpackers' hostel killing 15 young travellers, including seven Britons.

A homeless fruit picker was today convicted of murder and arson for starting a blaze that tore through an Australian backpackers' hostel killing 15 young travellers, including seven Britons.

Brisbane Supreme Court jury of seven women and five men reached the verdict after nearly two days of deliberations and 19 days of testimony in the trial of drifter, Robert Paul Long, aged 38.

Long had denied murder and arson charges linked to the blaze in June 2000 at the Palace Backpackers Hostel in Childers, a farming community 190 miles north of Brisbane.

Long showed no emotion as the verdicts were read out.

The mother of one of the victims yelled "yes!" and hugged members of her family.

Long faces maximum life imprisonment when sentence is passed on Monday.

He was charged with starting the fire and with the murder of Australian twins Kelly and Stacey Slarke, who died in the blaze.

The fire also killed seven British backpackers, two from the Netherlands, another Australian and one each from Ireland, South Korea and Japan. But prosecutors agreed to charge Long with only two murders for the sake of expediency.

The court heard evidence from more than 50 witnesses from around the world, including backpackers who survived the blaze.

Long was arrested five days after the blaze and police told the trial he confessed to starting the fire after they shot him in the arm.

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