New Luna Park Ghost Train fire witnesses come forward to demand government inquiry

Kathy Dewar, Richard Visser and Kerry Lawson were at Luna Park on the night of the Ghost Train fire.

Kathy Dewar, Richard Visser and Kerry Lawson were at Luna Park on the night of the Ghost Train fire. Photo: ABC News

Three key new witnesses have come forward to support claims that the cause of the fatal 1979 Luna Park Ghost Train fire was arson.

All three witnesses were at Luna Park on the night of the fire but were never contacted or interviewed by NSW Police, and were not included at the 1979 coronial inquest.

Richard Visser was 19 years old when he went to Luna Park with his girlfriend and her two younger sisters.

He has told the ABC he remembers smelling kerosene inside the ride late that night.

Kerosene was a popular fire accelerant at the time, used frequently to commit arson.

“It’s something that I’ve always remembered,” Mr Visser told the ABC.

“I smelt burning kerosene.”

Mr Visser said when he rode the Ghost Train earlier that night, there was no smell of kerosene and nothing was out of the ordinary.

But during a second ride later that night, something was amiss.

“I could distinctly smell the kerosene burning,” he said.

“Absolutely … There’s no doubt about it.”

Mr Visser remembers the strong smell of kerosene being “very strange” because it was not present earlier that night.

Richard Visser says he could smell kerosene on the Ghost Train ride. Photo: ABC News

He wanted to speak to police the next day and tell them about the kerosene but says he was deterred by the actions of the officer in charge.

“When I heard the news report the next morning that [the fire was caused by] an electrical fault, well, you just believed the police, because the police are law-abiding people,” he said.

“You believe what you hear from the police.”

But the announcement by NSW Police that the blaze was caused by an electrical fault was baseless.

The ABC’s Exposed documentary series revealed the officer in charge of the Luna Park fire investigation, Detective Inspector Doug Knight, was a corrupt “fixer” who accepted bribes from criminals to thwart and manipulate investigations.

Mr Visser is one of many witnesses never contacted or interviewed by NSW Police. He was also never called to the coronial inquest.

Now, 42 years later, Mr Visser says he is prepared to be interviewed by police and sign a sworn statement.

“I’m only saying what I saw and experienced. I’m not making it up,” he said.

“If kerosene is burning, I could pick it straight away.

Detective Inspector Doug Knight at the scene of Luna Park’s Ghost Train fire. Photo: The Sydney Morning Herald

“As a child, my mother had kerosene cookers to keep the soup warm. And that smell, that kerosene-burning smell, is something that stays with you all the time.”

Mr Visser has kept his mother’s original kerosene cookers and has shown them to the ABC.

He said he was coming forward now after watching the ABC’s Exposed documentary series and realising other people smelt kerosene inside the ride late that night, supporting his belief that the fire was deliberately lit.

“There was definitely an accelerant used in there, absolutely,” he said.

Mr Visser is the third witness to state they remember smelling kerosene inside the ride.

His account supports those given by former Luna Park employee Frank Boitano and another park patron, Greg Chard. Both say they smelt kerosene at the origin area of the fire.

He is now calling on the government to establish an inquiry into the fire and the conduct of NSW Police.

“The government should tell the police what to do. They should push it. Absolutely. I mean, the police report to the government. They represent the law,” he said.

He is also calling on other witnesses who were never contacted or interviewed by police to come forward.

“The truth needs to be told, people need to come forward,” he said.

“If you were there, come forward to explain your experience.

“I mean, seven people died.”

Former Luna Park staffers come forward to reveal they saw the group of bikies

Kerry Lawson was working as a cashier at Luna Park on the night of the fire. She is now calling on the government to establish an inquiry. Photo: ABC News

Two new Luna Park staffers have come forward to the ABC to reveal they also saw a suspicious group of bikies at the funfair that night.

Kerry Lawson was 18 years old and working as a cashier on the night of the fire.

She came forward to break her 42-year silence to 7.30, after watching the ABC’s Exposed investigation and realising other people saw bikies as well.

A group of seven witnesses told police at the time that they saw a group of bikies, including riding the Ghost Train just minutes before the blaze broke out, with some providing detailed physical descriptions of the men to police the very next morning after the fire.

Witnesses also said they overheard a group of bikies standing outside the Ghost Train talking about using “kerosene and matches” to light the fire, with another responding, “You shouldn’t have done that,” and, “Come on, let’s split,” after the fire had broken out.

But the police officer in charge, Inspector Knight, disregarded it all and allowed the leads to run cold.

Inspector Knight then falsely announced to the public that there were no suspicious circumstances to the blaze, despite NSW Police taking statements from multiple witnesses about a suspicious group of bikies on site that night.

The eventual coronial inquest also failed to call witnesses to give evidence in court about the bikies. The inquest also failed to even consider arson.

Now Ms Lawson has come forward to reveal she distinctly remembers standing inside the booth at the entrance gates of Luna Park when she saw a group of men queuing up to come inside.

“They were dressed and looked like bikies,” Ms Lawson told the ABC.

“I thought it was unusual. It was not a place that bikies would frequent or for bikies to come to.”

Ms Lawson said she was so concerned she made sure security followed them after they had entered the park.

She said she saw the bikies again later that night, and they were behaving oddly.

“What they were really doing is just sort of killing time,” she said.

“They weren’t really interested in riding rides. They were just hanging around.

“Those bikies had been around different parts of the park during that night.”

It was after this second sighting of the bikies that Ms Lawson said the fire in the Ghost Train broke out.

The fatal Ghost Train fire at Sydney’s Luna Park was originally blamed on an electrical fault.

The next morning, Ms Lawson returned to Luna Park and said she witnessed the entire Ghost Train wreckage being hastily cleared away at the direction of police.

“I couldn’t understand why it’d be moved so quickly. I was assuming that there would have been still some investigation,” she said.

“There was nothing there to examine. It had gone.”

Ms Lawson said she stood under an awning and waited to be spoken to by police so she could tell them about the suspicious group of bikies she had seen the night before.

But NSW Police never approached her, and they never contacted her for a statement or an interview.

“They were not interested in following up,” Ms Lawson said.

“I was upset that I wasn’t interviewed. I did have things to say.”

Not only was she never interviewed by police, but Ms Lawson was never included in the coronial inquest despite being a key staffer on duty and working at Luna Park on the night of the fire.

She is now calling on authorities to explain why she was excluded from all inquiries.

“I would have told them what I saw that night,” she said.

“I would have told them how I’d seen the same people on a repeated basis.

“And I would have told them I believed [the fire] was deliberately lit.”

Ms Lawson is not the only Luna Park staffer to come forward with information about a group of bikies at the fun fair that night.

Kathy Dewar was 24 and working a weekend shift at the chip bar on the night of the fire.

Kathy Dewar was in her early 20s when she worked at Luna Park. Four decades later she is still waiting for police to take her statement. Photo: ABC News

She has told 7.30 she too witnessed a group of bikies walk through the park.

“I do remember seeing a group of bikies. I distinctly remember this group,” Ms Dewar said.

“They walked around the side of the chip bar and past the front, and I remember one of them turning around, sort of smirking, and they were laughing.

“I am actually confident that I saw that group, a group of bikies, that evening.”

Ms Dewar said it was unusual for bikies so “rough-looking” to be at Luna Park.

“These were young guys who wore leather boots, long hair. They just looked kind of a bit out of place at Luna Park,” she said.

“It was very unusual to see a group like that at the park.”

Like her colleague Ms Lawson, Ms Dewar was never interviewed by police and never included at the coronial inquest.

“For me, there were actually two tragedies,” Ms Lawson told 7.30.

“First, there was the fire itself.

Some of Kathy Dewar’s Luna Park memorabilia. Photo: ABC News

“The second tragedy for me was the failed investigation … not having the truth come out. There was so much buried, so many facts distorted and hidden.”

Four decades later, Ms Dewar is still waiting for police to contact her and take her statement.

“I am definitely prepared at this point in my life to give a statement to the police,” she said.

“And I really resent the fact that I was not given the opportunity to do that at the time.

“Anyone who was at the park that evening should have been interviewed by the police and whatever observations they had, what experiences they had, should have been documented and recorded.”

She is demanding action, imploring the government to establish an inquiry and ensure justice is done and NSW Police’s defective investigation is acknowledged.

“Because that to me is really the biggest crime of all,” she said.

“These were people who were in positions of authority and trust. And they abused those positions and hid the truth and lied to people.”

In a statement to 7.30, NSW Police said its unsolved homicide team was reviewing the origin of the Luna Park fire and the circumstances surrounding the seven deaths.

A spokesperson for NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman told 7.30 the state government was “aware of calls for a fresh inquiry into the matter, following questions raised by the Exposed series”.

“The State Coroner has asked the NSW Police Force to conduct a review of available evidence to determine whether a fresh inquest should be held,” the spokesperson said.

“The government continues to consider any other appropriate action.”

Watch this story on 7.30 on iview.


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