Remembering Stuart Fairlie

Stuart Fairlie was a dedicated and compassionate RSPCA Victoria Inspector. He spent his life protecting animals from neglect and abuse and was a valued and trusted colleague. Tragically, on 1 May 1989, Stuart was murdered in the line of duty.

What happened to Stuart?

Stuart was investigating a reported case of cruelty to horses on a farm at Mortlake when he was beaten to death. Six days later, his body was found in a shallow grave under a pine plantation. He was 53 years old.

Stuart’s death sent shockwaves through the RSPCA and wider animal welfare community. Verbal and physical abuse were not unknown to RSPCA Inspectors, but murder was simply incomprehensible. Our tight-knit community was left to grieve a much-loved friend and highly-respected colleague. 

Police identified a suspect in Stuart’s murder, who was later taken to trial. The first trial took place at the Warrnambool Supreme Court in 1990. The jury could not reach a unanimous verdict, so a retrial took place in Melbourne in 1991. At the retrial, the accused was found not guilty. To this day, the case has not been resolved.

Stuart’s legacy

As we look back on this tragedy, it is with solemn reflection that we pay tribute to Stuart – a remarkable man who gave so much to both RSPCA and the greater animal welfare cause. Stuart will forever be remembered for what he was – an outstanding person and an excellent Inspector.  

RSPCA Inspector Graham Hambridge remembers his fallen colleague

 “When I started as an RSPCA Inspector in 1984, Stuart trained and mentored me for the first few months, so I went out on jobs with him a fair bit at the start. The nature of jobs varied greatly. On one job, we went to a hotel after we received an after-hours report about a snake being passed along the bar, but when we arrived, there was no sign of the snake.

Stuart was always very good at assessing the situation and making judgements. We spent many hours together out on the road and doing all sorts of other things that the job entailed. Stuart was certainly dedicated to his job – it was his life.

Stuart could talk, and once he got talking, I think the bosses thought it was hard to get him to stop. He was a Yorkshireman and brought with him the dry sense of humour, loyalty and dedication to his job. He was actually with the RSPCA in England before he came to Australia with his family. 

Stuart had a great sense of humour and often played practical jokes. One time, someone hid in one of the storage cupboards in the office. Stuart coaxed a fellow Inspector to open the cupboard, and he got the fright of his life. 

I was based in Sale when the news came in that Stuart had gone missing. I remember sitting in the office, just not knowing, really. Nobody knew what had happened. Stuart was missing for six days. I was stunned. We had a meeting sometime during those few days. People thought Stuart might have turned up for the meeting, but of course, he didn’t.

We had a very small, tight-knit community here at the RSPCA. Everybody knew everybody and we were all shocked and devastated to hear about Stuart’s death. At his funeral, myself and the other RSPCA Inspectors carried the coffin. 

The work atmosphere changed a lot after Stuart’s death. It really brought home the reality of the dangers associated with the job. The Inspectors were a lot more cautious, and that certainly stuck with me. In a way, Stuart’s death pulled everybody closer together. Everybody realised that life could be short. 

Although he’s no longer with us, Stuart will always be part of the RSPCA team. He will always be remembered.”