Report Into Gay Murders Changes Numbers, Rewrites History

Scott Johnson (Justice for Scott Johnson Facebook page)

NSW Police are still trying to duck responsibility for their inaction and possible complicity in a spate of homophobic attacks and murders

The long awaited Parrabell Report into gay hate crimes in 80’s and 90′ Sydney has been released. Former NSW Police gay liaison officer Sue Thomson says it dishonourably attempts to fudge the numbers and rewrite history.

Turning around in 2018 & saying “Oh by the way those murders weren’t nearly as bad in the 1980s and 1990s as we said they were in the 2000s. We’ve changed the criteria now and we’ve changed our minds on the numbers” That’s not very nice. It lacks honour. My mother taught me better than that.

She should know, as detailed below.

Update: ACON (formerly AIDS Council of NSW) isn’t satisfied either: see full text of their statement below.


On October 16 2016 the stirrer published “Deep Water Whitewash”  the latest in a long line of posts about the spate of gay murders and bashings in Sydney in the 1980s and 1990s. At the time we said:

During her 12 years as NSW Police gay liaison co-ordinator, Sue Thompson used police intelligence data to record 46 gay-hate murders in NSW between 1989 and 1999. Professor of Criminology, Stephen Tomsen of Western Sydney University supported that, finding 50 between 1985 and 1995.

Thanks to a prolonged campaign by the family of one of the victims, Scott Johnson, NSW Police have been forced to conduct a re-examination of their old case files. These murders form the subject of the current SBS Deep Water project, with a cop show, a documentary, and interactive websites. But the police appeared determined to continue to obscure, rather than reveal, the facts.

“the stirrer” has been following this story for some time, in a string of posts:

It’s looking increasingly unlikely that that Operation Parrabell, the NSW Police re-examination of their files relating to the murders of gay men in the 1980-90s, will throw little light on what happened, or on the shortcomings of the police of the time. Instead, it is more likely to throw a bucket of whitewash over the whole business.


Strike Force Parrabell, as it is now known, has produced its report, and it would appear fears of a whitewash were justified. The Guardian reports that the inquiry found only eight deaths were homophobically motivated:

On Wednesday, police released the findings of Strike Force Parrabell, whose goal was to “do all that is possible” to heal the rift that grew between police and the LGBTIQ community in those decades. A team of police investigators and independent academics from Flinders University looked at whether attackers had shown evidence of gay-hate motivation. They reached different conclusions in some cases but agreed eight deaths were the result of gay hate.

All eight have been solved – the killers were charged and convicted.

A further 19 men are suspected to have died in similarly brutal attacks, while 25 other deaths could not be ruled out as hate crimes.

The ABC reported that the police found gay hate bias pretty well impossible to detect in most cases:

The NSW Police Force says it will consider issuing a formal apology to the victims of a series of gay-hate crimes that took place across Sydney between 1976 and 2000, but say determining whether bias was a motivator in the crimes is “almost impossible”.

Assistant Commissioner Tony Crandell released the findings of Strike Force Parrabell — a police taskforce set up nearly three years to review the deaths of 86 gay men.

There have been 63 cases solved, with a third classified as bias or suspected bias crimes, and another 23 cases referred to the Unsolved Homicide Squad for further investigation.

Strike Force Parrabell will release its review of the cases today, and it is likely to be controversial among campaigners who have wanted police to apologise for failing to adequately investigate what they called a gay-hate murder “epidemic” in NSW between the 1970s and 1990s.

Of the 23 unsolved deaths now with the force’s Unsolved Homicide team, Parrabell could conclude that only five were “suspected” bias crimes — and it could nominate not one case for which there was hard ­evidence.

Of all the cases in Parrabell’s final report — many now solved — it found “evidence” of anti-gay bias in eight killings and a further 19 cases of “suspected” bias.

The reports have angered Sue Thompson. This is her response.


I simply have no respect for attempts to rewrite history like this or any for that matter. [Such attempts] are dangerous in my opinion and lead to unhappy places and the kinds of times that we’ve seen historically and that I feel compelled to speak up about. We should know better.

The group that is rewriting history are the only ones who usually feel happy and self satisfied with it unless the group that was the originally effected group don’t know the facts of what happened before.  I have tried to say little publicly about this “Review” but I  provided full formal information to those doing it. Turning around in 2018 & saying “Oh by the way those murders weren’t nearly as bad in the 1980s and 1990s as we said they were in the 2000s. We’ve changed the criteria now and we’ve changed our minds on the numbers”. That’s not very nice. It lacks honour. My mother taught me better than that. Who does it serve? Why even do it? For what purpose? For whose purpose? Where is the value in that?! For what benefit? For whose benefit?

Some history

The NSW Police compiled it’s first list of possible gay hate related murders throughout the 1990s (yes I did it; in consultation with police and detectives and it was approved by Assistant Commissioner level police with the then full authority and seniority to do that). We then did formal joint research on the murders with the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) jointly agreeing to 37 homicides in the 1990s alone. [I originally identified 44, the AIC reviewed that list and removed 7 for reason of there being inadequate independent information in their homicide case files]. And now someone wants to say ‘oh there wasn’t  really 37 (or 44) in 10 years like we said at the time, in fact there were actually only 27 in 24 years’!!
The summary of our joint research was published by the AIC in 2000. We wrote our full formal joint research (NSW Police and the AIC); it was independently, rigorously, academically reviewed and then formally published in 2001. An academic, Prof Stephen Tomsen, in the same period published his research into two decades (1980s and 1990s). He had 80 cases for 20 years and we had given him full access to all Police files, documents, Attorney General’s, Coroner’s files.
In 2013 we recompiled both our lists and confirmed there were over 80 possible gay hate related murders in that 20 year period.

Inconvenient Facts Omitted

This Report does not even explain that it was Police who compiled the first list, in consultation with police on the ground and NSW Police who jointly wrote the research. Nor that Assistant Commissioner Police approved it… some inconvenient truths and facts are simply missing.

Rewriting History

To now say that most of those murders were not ‘possible gay-hate related homicides’ is rewriting history….for whose benefit? Certainly not for the benefit of truth and history and righting wrongs and for congruent, honest bridge building. Any bridges that get rebuilt after this (as they must) will be because of the forgiveness and olive branch offered by the originally disadvantaged and targeted group who suffered and lost friends and family members to these crimes.

Criteria Fundamentally Flawed

It is not appropriate to develop new criteria which is far more rigid and then apply it retrospectively to a period some 20 & 30 years ago. Sorry….no! The “indicators” used in the 1990s to assess if it was a gay-hate related homicide were appropriate to the day and the information emerging on these terrible crimes of prejudice, concurrently at that time. They were applied contemporaneously at a time when local police and detectives were asked and gave input. To retrospectively apply new stricter criteria now without any contemporaneous reality is fundamentally flawed.

Scott Johnson Case Exposes the Contradictions

The most telling reality check is that the death of young American Scott Johnson at Manly’s Blue Fish Point in 1988 was considered a suicide by Police for 30 years. If not for the NSW Coroner ruling it a death by likely gay hate attack in November 2017, it would not have been seen as fitting within the new rigid criteria, by any means whatsoever. It so much didn’t fit the Police criteria that police still called it a suicide until Nov 2017 when the Coroner ruled otherwise.

Scott’s terrible ‘death’ (now formally ruled as gay hate attack) is now included in this new Report because otherwise it would be in complete contradiction to the view of the NSW Coroner after rigorous testing. There are many other cases with even more indicators that they were gay hate murders (which police actually said, contemporaneously at the time, were such murders) which, in this revision of history, are now deemed not to be….

Toying with facts, toying with history

It’s not right…it’s not right to play with history and re-write it after a so called review and revision. Without meaning any offence it would be a bit like saying ‘we’ve now decided that not as many Jews were killed and gassed in WW2 as we originally thought or not as many aboriginal children were taken from their families’….it’s just not right….I can’t do it….not far any reason….it’s never right. It always bodes badly for where we are heading.
I’m trying to be kind and polite but it is difficult…
Sue Thompson
NSW Police have made repeated attempts to downplay the extent of the horror, and cut the list of unsolved gay murders as short as possible: from the 80+ identified by Tomsen and Thompson, to 30, to eight. The original list was most vociferously attacked by Detective Chief Inspector Pamela Young of the Unsolved Homicide Team who suggested that all but eight cases were suicide, accident, misadventure, or murder with no gay-hate motive.
Nothing has changed.]

The NSW Police Force has released the final report into Strike Force Parrabell, which reviewed 88 deaths between 1976 and 2000, and focused on whether gay-hate bias were a factor in these deaths.

The NSW Police Force’s Strike Force Parrabell Report includes an academic review and case summaries. Of the 88 case reviewed, 63 were declared solved, 23 remain unsolved and 2 were not reviewed. Of the 86 cases reviewed, 27 cases were determined to have had evidence or suspected evidence of bias crime – 5 of which remain unsolved. A further 25 were found to have insufficient information to make a determination.

In commenting on ACON’s initial review of the Strike Force Parrabell Report, ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill said: “The Strike Force Parrabell Report confirms a substantial number of these crimes were motivated by anti-gay bias. It is also states that there was a high proportion of cases where there was insufficient evidence to absolutely determine bias. These findings are alarming and speak to the extraordinarily high level of violent crimes that were directed to members of our community during this time, often going unaccounted for.

“We acknowledge the work the NSW Police Force have undertaken in reviewing these cases which helps to provide greater understanding and clarity.

“Of course, any moves to place unsolved cases under active homicide investigation would be very welcomed. Victims of these crimes, as well as their surviving loved ones and family members, deserve truth, justice and closure,” Parkhill said.

The Strike Force Parrabell Report contains 12 recommendations, most of which can be summarised as reinforcing existing processes, policies and training.

However, there are some new initiatives outlined the Report’s recommendations, which are encouraging including the establishment of a LGBTI conference for police, the development and implementation of a revised system for the early identification of bias crimes, and an expanded Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officer Program (GLLO) program.

“The GLLO Program has had significant benefits for the LGBTI community and we support the recommendation for the program’s expansion,” Parkhill said. “But before we expand it, we would like to see a review – involving LGBTI community members and organisations – to enhance its effectiveness,” Parkhill said.

Following the release last month of ACON’s report In Search of Truth and Justice: Documenting Gay and Transgender Prejudice Killings in NSW in the late 20th Century – which also included a series of recommendations – Parkhill queried whether Strike Force Parrabell’s recommendations go far enough.

“While we support Strike Force Parrabell Report’s recommendation for a revised system that can assist frontline, operational officers to better identify and record bias crimes, we believe this needs to be coupled with a strengthening of Bias Crimes Unit’s capacity to more fully respond to the needs of LGBTI community members. Bolstering the Bias Crimes Unit is among the recommendations listed in ACON’s report,” Parkhill said.

Among the other recommendations outlined in ACON’s report was an independent inquiry into the actions of the various arms of the criminal justice system to fully understand the impediments to justice during this period in history.

“Concerns have been raised in the past about whether the police can objectively review themselves and their practices, and an independent process would provide confidence that we have explored the issues and that any recommendations to ensure this cannot happen again are robust and sufficient,” Parkhill said. “Moreover, out of respect to the many victims and their families – not to mention the broader LGBTI community – an independent process would demonstrate that these are issues that our governments and institutions take seriously, which we learn from, and prevent from reoccurring.”

Finally, ACON is seeking a formal apology by the NSW Police Force to the LGBTI community for the inadequate or slow responses to violence throughout this period.

“We would welcome an apology from the NSW Police Force to the LGBTI community. This would send a positive sign to any same-sex attracted couple who are still too frightened to hold hands in many places around the state for fear of violence. Importantly, it will go a long way in healing the grief and trauma experienced by victims, families and other members of our communities.”




For more information please contact:
David Alexander, ACON Media and Communications
E: T: +61 (02) 9206 2044 M: +61 (0)428 477 042

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)