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By GREG ROBERTS in Childers
Man fled backpacker fire and hid behind bushes, says witness
A witness told police he saw the man with what looked like a video camera in a park opposite the hostel hiding behind bushes, within 10 minutes of the first explosive noises associated with the fire.
The witness, who asked not to be identified, said he came out of the Federal Hotel where he was staying a short distance from the hostel, to investigate the noises.
"I wandered up to the park and I saw this guy crouched down behind some bushes," the witness said. "When he knew I'd seen him, he ran away, down behind the toilet block. It was obvious that he didn't want to be seen. I didn't really see what he had in his hands."
Mr Darren Hill, from New Zealand, said a hostel guest told him he found a wheelie bin in the hostel's television room, on the ground floor, with smoke coming from it just after midnight on Thursday - about 20 minutes before the fire was noticed.
The wheelie bin was one of several which had been left on the footpath at the rear of the building. Someone had hauled it 50 metres to the room before setting alight and unknown substance in it. The lid was open.
Yesterday, the bin was visible at the back of the hostel, cordoned off by police tape.
Mr Phil Vaughan, of Sydney, one of the 70 survivors, said Mr Robert Long, who police want to question, had been drinking at the Childers Hotel, across the road from the hostel, on Thursday night. But he said Mr Long usually drank at the Federal Hotel, down the road.
"He was a bit of a loose unit, a bit strange," Mr Vaughan said.
Another backpacker, who asked not to be named, said Mr Long had told a woman who was staying at the hostel that she should "leave her window and door open tonight".
He did not explain what he meant, but the woman assumed he was making unwanted sexual advances.
"He would sit in the bar and he had these glazed eyes, just staring into nothingness," the backpacker said.
Another backpacker, Mr Keith O'Brien, said Mr Long had told him he had cancer and had thought of killing himself. "He would go on with all sorts of strange stuff," Mr O'Brien said.
Police said the Sydney-born Mr Long had been in the area for three months and while he did not regard himself as a backpacker, he had stayed regularly at the hostel. He is known to police in Childers.
Inspector Phil Wardrope said police had completed interviews with all 70 survivors but wanted to interview some again. He said it would be unhelpful to comment on information they had provided.