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Childers backpacker hostel killer Robert Long's parole bid denied

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The man who set fire to the Childers Palace Backpacker Hostel, killing 15 people in 2000, has been denied parole.

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Robert Paul Long was sentenced to life in prison, with a non-parole period of 20 years, over the blaze he lit deliberately that destroyed the hostel in southern Queensland in June 2000. Long was convicted of murdering two people killed in the blaze.

The ABC has confirmed his bid for freedom was rejected by Parole Board Queensland on Tuesday. Long applied to be released from prison when he became eligible for parole in June last year.

Fire survivor Richard Tempest said he and other families were thrilled with the decision.

However, Tempest, who lives in Brisbane, said it was not necessarily the end of the matter.

“What we do understand obviously at this early time is he can try again in 12 months’ time,” he said.

“So we’ll obviously keep fighting the cause every time he attempts to do so. We strongly feel that we owe it to the other friends of ours that we lost.”

The application, which was lodged just weeks before the 20th anniversary of the blaze, caused major public outcry in the rural town of Childers in the Bundaberg region.

An online petition calling for him to be kept behind bars indefinitely was launched last year on behalf of survivors and families of victims.

The petition, which has now attracted more than 20,000 signatures, was presented to the parole board as part of Long’s submission.

It is understood Long will be eligible to reapply for parole in a year’s time.

Former Childers mayor Bill Trevor said he was relieved by the parole decision. “I’m pleased he’s not out as I know many people around the world and in my community will be, but a little disappointed that there’s an opportunity for him to apply again in 12 months’ time,” he said.

Trevor said the horrors of the fire remained front of mind for the community to this day.

“The building itself reminds everyone each and every day when you walk down the street,” he said.

“I can walk up and down the street probably 50 times and on the 51st time a tear will fly out the corner of the eye.

“I know that has the same effect on many of our community people who were intimately involved in supporting the survivors and their families after the fire.

“It’s still a big part in our community and something we will never forget.”

Trevor said it was heartening to see the support for the online petition to keep Long behind bars.

“I think people are mindful that Robert Long was only tried for two murders when there was actually 15 — and they think 20 years is too short,” he said.

“These families carry this burden all their life with them to their grave where they never have the opportunity to see their children grow up and have children of their own and grandchildren and all.”

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