MP calls for investigation into police inaction over deaths at gay cruising grounds

Cliffs at The Gap, Sydney, pic by monztermash

Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich has called on the NSW Ombudsman to determine whether police properly investigated upwards of 70 deaths at gay beats and cruising grounds during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Some bodies were never found: some were apparently thrown from cliffs.

As previously reported, a huge toll of unexplained and unpunished bashings and deaths came to light because of the persistence of the family of one of the victims. Scott Johnson’s death was put down to suicide, but Daniel Glick, the investigative journalist and private detective hired by his family, believes otherwise.

Police gay and lesbian spokesperson Donna Adney initially told me that Inspector John Lehmann, of the NSW Police Unsolved Homicide Team was working Scott’s case. She did not contradict or correct me when I quoted press reports indicating Lehmann was looking at more cases.

Unfortunately the Inspector was away on vacation until late April and unavailable for interview. Adney offered, in his absence, to put me in contact with Det Chief Insp Pamela Young. A little later Adney sent me a second message to say that “Det Supt Mick Willing has indicated he will give you a call.”

But before he could do so, I was contacted by Georgina Wells, the State Crime Command Media Supervisor. She told me very firmly that only one case – Scott Johnson – was being reviewed, and that there were no plans to actively review any others as no fresh evidence had come to light, The press have it wrong. She declined to make any officers available for interview.

I have had no further contact from NSW Police since. Clearly they are very sensitive on this issue, and are not be keen for past misdeeds by officers, if any, to be dragged into the light. I wonder how effective an Ombudsman’s investigation can be in there circumstances? Because the Ombudsman usually outsources investigations into complaints about the police, to the police themselves.

Shortly before Greenwich’s announcement, I spoke with Daniel Glick, who told me that Scott’s family felt bewildered, with no clear indication of which official body, if any, would pursue Scott’s case.

It sounded to me as if no-one wanted to touch it. The Ombudsman or the Police Integrity Commission normally just refer matters back to the police themselves to resolve, which would be inappropriate here. Some kind of independent inquiry will be needed – but who will take it on?.

I have written before on why it is undesirable for the police to be judge and jury in their own cases. Let us hope that this time the Ombudsman establishes an independent investigation. The police will not be able to expunge the suspicion that they themselves initiated and carried out this cover-up, still in place today, unless this is done.

Some NSW police failed in their duty to guard and protect our community from gay bashers and murderers in the 1980’s and 90’s. It is time we knew who, and why, so that such a failure can never happen again.

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)