A woman who saw three men lighting a drum shortly before Brisbane’s Whiskey Au Go Go firebombing says police intimidated her to change her statement.
Kath Potter, then 22, and a girlfriend arrived at the nightclub for the first time about two hours before the 1973 arson attack that killed 15 people.
Ms Potter was in a phone booth outside the building when her friend brought her attention to “something weird going on”, she told an inquest in Brisbane on Wednesday.
She said three men wearing dark clothing got a drum from the back seat of a black or dark blue car, before ripping up white material taken from the boot and stuffing it into the drum.
“Then the three of them were … trying to manipulate it (on the bottom rim) up towards the door,” Ms Potter added.
“I saw them light it before they started to move it towards the door.”
Ms Potter said the men were in the club’s doorway when she and her friend left “pretty quickly”.
In the morning her father showed a newspaper article about the bombing.
Ms Potter gave a statement to police that day, but during the week after officers came to her house asking to go over her statement.
“They told me I was lying and I must have been drunk at the time because there was not three men there were only two,” she told the inquest.
They insisted she was lying, telling her to “rectify” her statement.
“I said ‘I’m not doing it because I know what I saw’.”
Ms Potter said the officers “intimidated” her and were kicked out the house by her father.
Days after the bombing Ms Potter was at another club when Whiskey Au Go Go management asked what she had seen.
The managers discussed the identity of the three men, but she didn’t know the people they were talking about.
Ms Potter also said she saw two men in suits being handed a brown paper bag at the front counter at the Chequers nightclub – owned by the same men as the Whiskey Au Go Go.
Her father told her it was “protection money to keep them all safe”.
Ms Potter said her father told her not to go to the Whiskey Au Go Go that night because of his knowledge of Brisbane’s “criminal underbelly”, saying “I don’t want you to
lose your life”.
She didn’t make a second statement and wasn’t asked to testify when two men – John Andrew Stuart and James Richard Finch – were convicted of murder over the brutal crime and sentenced to life in prison.
Despite the two men being jailed for murder, the full extent of the circumstances causing the deaths has never been “satisfactorily established”.
This has led to the re-opening of an inquest, first held within days of the firebombing, but terminated after only three days when Stuart and Finch were arrested.
More than 60 patrons and staff tried frantically to escape the fire after two drums of fuel were set alight in the foyer of the Fortitude Valley club about 2am on March 8, 1973.
Fifteen people didn’t make it out, dying from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Survivor Hunter Nicol told the inquest earlier he was working as a police officer when he came across a case file that contained information about a possible motive.
The note he saw referred to people wanting to put prostitutes into the nightclub that would have to pay protection money.
“If they didn’t play the game they would get firebombed,” he said.
Another survivor Donna Phillips has told the inquest she was approached in 2018 by a man referred to as Lawyer Y because he cannot be identified for legal reasons, who told her of a meeting the night before the fire of the club owners, accountants, police, people from banking and insurance representatives.
She said she had no knowledge of the meeting herself, but Lawyer Y told her the discussion was about one or more of the clubs facing financial difficulties.
The two-week sitting of the inquest continues before State Coroner Terry Ryan.