A Glimmer of Justice


Scott Johnson (Justice for Scott Johnson Facebook page)


Great News! A fresh inquest has been ordered. The coroner said that the upcoming inquest “may” lead to a different finding as to how Mr Johnson died.

“There are other legitimate considerations such as the right of the family and the public to have the new evidence tested in open court,” he said.

“That may allay suspicions and concerns that are held by the family and perhaps some members of the community.”

If you have any information about violence around beats in the Northern Beaches area of Sydney in the 1980, please contact Scott’s family via the Facebook page, Justice for Scott Johnson.

Scott’s body was found at the foot of a cliff at Blue Fish Point near Manley a known gay beat, in 1988. At the time his death was written off as suicide, but this verdict was overturned at a fresh inquest in 2012. There’s a wealth of information at the Facebook page.

Scott’s family are convinced he was murdered, one of an extraordinary spate of up to 70 murders of gay men in and around Sydney in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

A NSW police investigation last year concluded that only eight deaths previously written off as suicide or simply ‘unexplained’ could have been the result of gay-bashing murders. Scott’s brother Steve, and even an advisor to the police, disagree.

The scale of the violence is staggering. The first gay and lesbian client consultant to the NSW Police, Sue Thompson, originally estimated that 46 gay men were murdered in NSW in the ten years from 1989 to 1999 alone. Now she thinks there may be many more.

The Sydney gay community has long believed that the police themselves were complicit in much of the violence, on a scale ranging from indifference to violence against mere ‘poofters’, up to actual participation in some attacks.

The police have long resented and resisted the pressure to investigate these deaths, especially Scott’s.

Tensions [between police and the Johnsons] became obvious in August last year [2013] when they received a caustic email from Detective Chief Inspector Pamela Young from the Unsolved Homicide Team, who said she and her unit found it “offensive” that they wanted to make their own inquiries after investigations by trustworthy police.

The story of the erasure of police records of a 1989 gay bashing, which surfaced in January this year, has done nothing to improve confidence in NSW police integrity when it comes to bringing the perpetrators of gay hate crimes to justice.

Senior police officers called in Paul Simes to discuss a terrifying assault he witnessed, and to reveal that the gang of stick-wielding thugs were in fact policemen.

So it astounds Simes to discover now – after Surry Hills police took a fresh look at the case last year, and following his two freedom-of-information requests – that any record of his high-level meeting in 1989 has been expunged.

A coronial inquest, if granted, is the very minimum these cases deserve. There should be an independent royal commission into all these deaths.

Meanwhile, an independent civilian police oversight body needs to be established, a standing body with powers to compel testimony from officers and witnesses.

The truth is out there, but it will take an extraordinary effort to uncover even a part of it, in the teeth of the police resistance to examine and account for their own behaviour.

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)