Magistrate formally sends hostel blaze suspect for trial

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The Independent Online

A fruit picker accused of starting an inferno that trapped and killed 15 young travellers was this morning ordered to stand trial on arson and murder charges.

A fruit picker accused of starting an inferno that trapped and killed 15 young travellers was this morning ordered to stand trial on arson and murder charges.

The decision to try Robert Paul Long, 37, came seven months after a fire prosecutors claim was deliberately lit reduced the timber-framed Palace Backpackers Hostel to a charred shell.

Police had to use DNA testing and dental records to identify some of the bodies recovered from the hostel wreckage in Childers, a close-knit farming community 190 miles north of Brisbane.

Long faces life imprisonment if convicted of setting fire to the hostel and the murder of two of the victims, Australian twins, Kelly and Stacey Slarke.

The 22-year-old twins were among six backpackers from Britain, four from Australia, two from the Netherlands and one each from Ireland, South Korea and Japan who died in the fire.

Long pleaded innocent to the charges last Friday. He will be tried at Brisbane Supreme Court. No date was immediately set for the trial.

Police have said they will wait until the two murder charges have been dealt with in court before deciding whether to charge him with the other 13 killings.

Monday's decision by magistrate Michael Halliday to send Long to trial followed two weeks of hearings at which prosecutors outlined their evidence.

Witnesses who testified at the hearing included survivors who clambered out of windows to escape the inferno and police officers who arrested Long and claimed that he confessed to starting the fire.

Some British witnesses gave evidence by telephone.

Long allegedly said: "I am dying anyway, I started that fire," according to an officer, who was not named for security reasons.

Police shot Long when he resisted arrest when captured near Childers five days after the blaze.

One backpacker staying at the Palace hostel on the night of the fire said he saw Long standing over a flaming trash can. Others said Long had discussed burning down the hostel in the days leading up to the fire.

Prisoners who have been jailed with Long since his arrest also told the court he had admitted to them starting the blaze.

Long sat calmly throughout the sometimes-harrowing evidence, barely saying a word until entering his plea last Friday.

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