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Relief at backpacker verdict

Richard Long
Long will be sentenced on Monday  

LONDON, England -- The parents of British backpackers killed in an Australian hostel fire have expressed relief at the conviction of the arsonist and murderer.

Richard Long was convicted of arson and two counts of murder over the June 2000 blaze that killed 15 people at a backpackers hostel about 190 miles north of Brisbane.

As the verdict was read out in the Brisbane Supreme Court following two days of deliberations by the jury, the mother of one of the victims yelled "Yes!" and hugged members of her family.

The mother of Melissa Smith, a British backpacker who died in the flames, left the court in tears.

The father of 28-year-old Natalie Morris said he was "over the moon" to hear Long was convicted.

Ken Morris and his wife Yvonne have been stricken with grief since their daughter died with her childhood friend Sarah Williams.

Australian guilty of backpackers murder 

Speaking from their home in Wales they told the UK Press Association that

Long had taken the love of their lives away.

"This is a very emotional moment. Thank goodness it brings that side of things to an end," Morris said.

"We have got to get on with our lives now as best as we can and grieve for our daughter.

"It's never going to be the same as we have still lost our daughter, but there is a different feeling of satisfaction now."

Hostel damage
The hostel was gutted by the fire  

The couple were now planning to fly from Britain to Australia for a memorial service due to be held on the second anniversary of the blaze, June 23, this year.

"I think we can go there now feeling a lot better than if he had got away with this," Morris said.

Brian and Valerie Sutton, who lost their 24-year-old son Gary in the blaze, said that they were still coming to terms with the verdict.

"It has not quite sunk in yet. Of course we are feeling relieved," Sutton said.

"Obviously nothing is going to bring back our son. We are relieved that Long has not got away with it but I think it is going to be a little time before we really know how we are going to feel."

Gary had been travelling with his best friend, 25-year-old Mike Lewis, at the time of the fire. Both were killed in the blaze.

Long faces up to life imprisonment when sentence is passed on Monday.

He was charged with starting the fire and with the murder of Australian twins Kelly and Stacey Slarke.

The fire also killed seven backpackers from Britain, two from the Netherlands, another Australian and one each from Ireland, South Korea and Japan.

Prosecutors agreed to charge Long with only two murders for the sake of expediency.

The mayor of Childers, Bill Trevor, said: "Families around the world will wake up with a sense of relief that someone will pay for this terrible crime. I feel for the families because not even this verdict can bring their children back."

A Dutch backpacker who survived the blaze also cried after hearing the verdict, while outside the court, English tourist Richard Tempest , who also survived, welcomed the verdict.

"We can start the healing process now, but it will never go away. It is with us every day," he said.


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