Whiskey Au Go Go: Explosive claim that nightclub firebombing was ‘police-backed’ aired at inquest

Blake AntrobusNCA NewsWire
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Camera IconNot Supplied Credit: Supplied

Explosive claims have been aired at an inquest into the historic firebombing of a Brisbane nightclub that the attack was a “police-backed operation” and officers were “running a protection racket”.

The astonishing allegations were revealed by brothers Christopher and Graham McGetrick on Thursday as they gave evidence at the coronial inquest into the tragic Whiskey Au Go Go club fire in 1973.

Fifteen people died from carbon monoxide poisoning after two petrol drums were ignited on the venue’s bottom floor.

The court was told former police officer John Bargenquast visited the father of Christopher and Graham McGetrick several years after the firebombing.

Fifteen people died after two petrol drums were ignited on the bottom floor Brisbane’s Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub on March 8, 1973. The current inquest is examining whether anyone else may have been involved in the deadly attack.
Camera IconFifteen people died after two petrol drums were ignited on the bottom floor Brisbane’s Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub on March 8, 1973. The current inquest is examining whether anyone else may have been involved in the deadly attack. Credit: Supplied

Both brothers gave evidence that Mr Bargenquast was facing criminal charges involving stolen vehicles and he feared his family would be charged with receiving stolen property.

Graham McGetrick said Mr Bargenquast asked his father – who was the press secretary for the then-police minister – to speak to police commissioners Terry Murphy and Tony Lewis about dropping the charges against his family.

Mr Bargenquast allegedly threatened he would “blow the lid off Whiskey Au Go Go” if not, he told the inquest.

“At the time, he (Mr Bargenquast) told my dad Whiskey Au Go Go was a police-backed operation,” Graham said.

“He never mentioned a name at all.”

The inquest heard that both commissioners told the McGetrick’s father they were still going to prosecute when this information was relayed.

Charges against Mr Bargenquast’s family were later dropped.

Graham McGetrick said he was not aware of Mr Bargenquast doing anything that “blew the lid off” the incident.

Interior pictures of the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub after the fire.
Camera IconInterior pictures of the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub after the fire. Credit: Supplied

The court was told Mr Bargenquast never fully explained the basis of his belief of Mr Murphy’s involvement.

Christopher McGetrick, a freelance journalist, gave evidence that Mr Bargenquast believed Mr Murphy had “direct involvement” with the firebombing.

“He basically believed Murphy was a bit of a standover man and was collecting protection money from nightclubs,” Christopher McGetrick said.

Christopher McGetrick said he ran into Mr Bargenquast at a social event after he was released from prison, where he was told Mr Murphy was angry at Mr Bargenquast for running a “racket” that was independent of “the joke”.

The court was told “the joke” referred to a corrupt police unit run by senior officers where any policeman who wanted to engage in corruption should be “part of the joke”.

“They thought Mr Bargenquast and a few other officers had run their own little show and that was not on, apparently,” Christopher McGetrick said.

Court
Camera IconDetective Sergeant Virginia Grey, the lead investigator into the nightclub attack, leaving the coroners court. Steve Pohlner Credit: News Corp Australia

During tense cross-examination, barrister Chris Minnery put to Christopher McGetrick that he was trying to remember a very old conversation relayed to him by his father.

“I have a very strong memory,” Mr McGetrick answered.

Barrister Keith Howe questioned whether Mr Bargenquest had an axe to grind against police, but Chris McGetrick rejected the assertion.

The hearings will resume next week.

Thursday’s proceedings took a shocking turn after it was revealed the detective investigating the deadly attack had critical recordings of a police officer who was due to give evidence.

Two men, John Andrew Stuart and James Richard Finch, were convicted of murder and arson over the blaze.

Stuart died in prison in 1979, while Finch – who was deported to England after serving his sentence – died last year.

But questions have persisted for years as to whether others were involved or knew of the deadly attack prior.

No one else has ever been charged over the fire.

Originally published as Whiskey Au Go Go: Explosive claim that nightclub firebombing was ‘police-backed’ aired at inquest

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