Childers backpackers hostel fire: Survivor fights to keep murderer Robert Paul Long in jail

Former Corrimal resident Robert Paul Long set alight a Childers hostel in the early hours of June 23, 2000.
Former Corrimal resident Robert Paul Long set alight a Childers hostel in the early hours of June 23, 2000.

For one survivor, the 20th anniversary of the Palace Backpackers Hostel fire in Childers, Queensland has been made even more difficult with the looming possibility the arsonist and murderer could walk free from jail.

Former Corrimal resident Robert Paul Long, an itinerant fruit picker, set alight a Childers hostel in the early hours of June 23, 2000, which ultimately killed 15 people and left the 69 survivors scarred for life.

After a five-day search for the suspected arsonist, Long, whose parents lived in East Corrimal at the time of the attack, was found hiding in bushland where he stabbed a police dog and was shot in the arm during his arrest.

Slain: Kelly and Stacey Slarke.

Slain: Kelly and Stacey Slarke.

He was charged and convicted for two of the murders of Kelly and Stacey Slarke and the arson in 2002 for which he was sentenced to life in prison with a 20-year non-parole period.

Last month, Long applied to the parole board to be released. A decision is still pending.

Survivor Rob Jansen, now aged 42, lives in the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaao and is petitioning the Queensland parole board to not release Long. The petition has been signed by more than 18,000 people.

We do not consider him to be rehabilitated sufficiently to be released back into society. We firmly hope that his parole is dismissed and that he stays in prison till the day he dies.

"It has been a more difficult anniversary than I could have imagined," Mr Jansen said. "Long's application for parole has given the milestone a whole different perspective.

"It has brought up a lot of anger and pain, not only for me but for many survivors and families of the victims.

"We the survivors feel the obligation to stand up for our 15 friends who were brutally murdered by Robert Long.

Former Corrimal resident Robert Paul Long set alight a Childers hostel in the early hours of June 23, 2000.

Former Corrimal resident Robert Paul Long set alight a Childers hostel in the early hours of June 23, 2000.

"Instead of remembering our friends quietly, we are forced to try and make sure that he won't ever be released."

Mr Jansen said the survivors started the petition because there are no more legal options to charge Long with the 13 other murders and attempted murder of the 69 survivors.

"That's why we decided to get the public involved," he said. The public have a say whether they want Long back in their society. Survivors have never received any evidence of remorse from Long.

"We do not consider him to be rehabilitated sufficiently to be released back into society. We firmly hope that his parole is dismissed and that he stays in prison till the day he dies."

The remains of The Palace Backpackers Hostel at Childers in 2002.

The remains of The Palace Backpackers Hostel at Childers in 2002.

Mr Jansen said despite the time that had passed, he still vividly remembered the night of the fire. He was sleeping in the large dormitory on the ground floor of the hostel. Most of the backpackers who died were on the second floor.

"A few days before the fire I moved from room 12 to the dorm because the 2000 European Football Championship was on," he said.

"Most other Dutch people were staying in the dorm and I thought it would be more fun to stay with them and we could go across the street to watch the game in the pub.

"Compared to the people upstairs, we could get out easily. We only had to remove a bunk bed that was in front of an old door. Then that door was kicked in, which gave us access to the street."

This story Survivor pleads to keep Childers backpacker fire killer behind bars first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.