The President of the Queensland Parole Board has declared a conflict of interest and will not be participating in the hearing to determine the application for release by convicted murderer Robert Long.
Following a direct request I made to Queensland Corrective Services, it confirmed Michael Byrne QC will step aside when the matter is heard.
No update has been provided on when the Board will convene, but this declaration points to a pending meeting to decide Long’s fate.
It has been more than 150 days since Long’s legal team filed his parole application in early June but as yet, the matter has not been heard.
As reported ON THIS SITE EARLIER THIS MONTH, the Queensland Parole Board deferred Long’s application and sought further information to inform its decision. That was received and the matter will be re-listed to a Board meeting at a time still to be determined.
He was sentenced to 20 years non-parole for arson and two counts of murder after setting fire to the Palace Backpackers Hostel in Childers on 23 June, 2000.
15 people were killed in the fire.
Mr Byrne personally met with former Isis Mayor Bill Trevor and fire survivor Richard Tempest in mid-June to take possession of more than 50 victim impact statements which have called on the Parole Board to deny Long’s application for release.
Now, Mr Byrne has declared a conflict of interest and will not preside over the hearing.
While the reasons for this have not been expanded upon by Queensland Corrective Services, it is my understanding this is in relation to Mr Byrne’s role when charges were first laid against Long 20 years ago.
In 2000, Mr Byrne was the Deputy Director of the Office of Public Prosecution in Queensland.
He led a decision to only charge Long with two counts of murder – for the deaths of Western Australian twins Kelly and Stacey Slarke.
As discussed in my chart-topping podcast CHILDERS – The Full Story – there were several legal and logistical reasons as to why that decision was made, including complexities in proving culpability for all 15 deaths and DNA evidence integrity.
Prosecutors also were leaving their options open for a potential appeal in case a conviction was not initially reached.
It did not impact on the severity or length of his sentence – which was the maximum that could be applied under Queensland law at the time.
By the time the matter went to trial in March 2002, Mr Byrne had left the Department of Public Prosecutions.
He was appointed a judge of the District Court of Queensland earlier this year.
An online petition set up by one of the Palace survivors calling for Long to remain behind bars has generated more than 20,000 signatures from around the world.