Thursday, 30 November 2017

1988 "suicide" finally deemed as gay hate crime by coroner today

The cliff Scott went over
Scott Johnson

It's a well known fact that NSW police didn't care about gays in the 80's and early 90's. There was even a sort of task force that drove around in unmarked police cars bashing gays. Violence against gays when reported to police fell on deaf ears, often the victims getting blamed. Any investigation into crimes against gays was sloppy and unprofessional. Things have since changed. In recent times 88 deaths of gay people during the 80's and 90's have been reopened for investigation due to sloppy police work initially. 

Scott Johnson was an American mathematician living here in Sydney. Where he died was a gay beat which had gays roaming around bashing and stealing off gays who frequented the area. His body was found at the bottom of a cliff at Sydney's North Head. Police deemed it as suicide, which has always been disputed by his family.

Because of the sloppy police work at the start 30 years ago evidence has been lost forever and it would be very hard to definitively identify his killers. They may well be still living among us in Sydney.
The state coroner has also criticised the early police investigation into the US mathematician’s death, saying investigators had rushed to their finding of suicide. 

But the coroner, Michael Barnes, has ruled there was insufficient evidence to identify Johnson’s killers. 

 “The inadequacy of the original investigation, the passage of time since the incident and the unreliability of many of the witnesses has made establishing the precise facts more difficult,” Barnes found. 

“Nonetheless, I am persuaded to the requisite standard that Scott died as a result of a gay-hate attack. There is however, insufficient reliable evidence to identify the perpetrators.” 

Johnson, who was 27, spent his last moments at a cliff top at North Head, near Manly, on 10 December 1988. It was a known meeting place for gay men looking for sex. 

His body was discovered by fishers at the foot of the 60-metre cliff. His clothes, folded neatly in a pile, were found at the cliff top. No witnesses came forward, and police quickly deemed the death a suicide. But the circumstances surrounding Johnson’s death remained a mystery. 

There were persistent suggestions he had been targeted in a homophobic attack. 

Such attacks were common in Sydney at the time. The city was gripped by a series of gay-hate murders in the late 1980s and early 90s. 

The coroner has heard evidence that gangs of gay bashers were active in the area of Johnson’s death at the time. The inquest also heard evidence that a gang called the Narrabeen Skinheads had boasted about bashing an “American faggot” around the time of Johnson’s death. The coroner found that the evidence could not be corroborated. 

Johnson’s brother, Steve Johnson, has long believed his younger brother may have been pushed or hounded off the cliff. He still believes the perpetrators can be caught, almost three decades later. The Guardian