Sydney: Man charged in with gay murder after 32 years

Manly’s North Head – Image:

After nearly 32-years of a legal battle, a man was charged on Tuesday with the murder of an American citizen, at a notorious gay meeting spot in Sydney. LGBT+ groups are calling for more investigations into unsolved gay killings in the Australian city.

Sydney-based PhD student, Scott Johnson, 27, was found dead at the base of a cliff, near Manly’s North Head in 1988, but his family refused to accept an inquest’s findings that he had committed suicide.

His brother, Steve, led a campaign for a full investigation, and in 2017, a coroner ruled Johnson died “as a result of actual or threatened violence by unidentified persons who attacked him because they perceived him to be homosexual”, police said.

Police from the state of New South Wales (NSW) said a 49-year-old man was arrested in Sydney on Tuesday, and charged with murder. He was due to appear in court on Wednesday, and Johnson’s family had been informed.

“Scott’s family never wavered in the fight for justice; dedicating their time and efforts to Scott’s honour, and today, I hope this arrest can bring them some kind of peace,” NSW Minister for Police and Emergency Services, David Elliott, said in a statement.

The arrest came after the NSW police in 2017 set up Strike Force Welsford to investigate the case, which involved offering a AU$1 million ($650,000) reward for new information that led to a conviction, a figure matched by Johnson’s brother.

The NSW police did not say if any reward would be paid.

LGBT+ groups welcomed the arrest, and called for the investigation of more unsolved deaths and disappearances of gay men and transgender women.

“The deaths and disappearances of gay men and transgender women and the epidemic of violence in Sydney and NSW during the 1970s to 1990s has left a traumatic legacy,” ACON, a NSW-based LGBT+ advocacy group, said in a statement.

“There were dozens more cases from this time and many remain unsolved leaving dozens of families and loved ones without answers or resolution.”

A 2019 NSW government report, “Gay and Transgender hate crimes between 1970 and 2010”, identified four men who were murdered, died, or disappeared, between 1985 and 1990, at a different Sydney clifftop to where Johnson died.

In 1989, a fifth man survived after being beaten and almost thrown off the same cliff, an area known as a place for gay men to meet, the report said.

-Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage – Thomson Reuters Foundation

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