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Gay men “bashed for sport”
Homicide Squad Acting Commander Detective Superintendent Chris Olen made the announcement at a press conference on Tuesday alongside Johnson’s siblings, Rebecca and Steve, and investigative journalist Daniel Glick.
Olen announced that NSW Police have formed Strike Force Macnamir to oversee the investigation.
“What we’re looking for is fresh information to help determine what happened to Scott so there can be some closure for the family. We ask anyone with information about the case to contact the police,” Olen said.
The 27-year-old’s body was found by fishermen at the base of Manly’s North Head on December 10, 1988.
In June 2012 the Glebe Coroners Court overturned its 1989 ruling of suicide and referred the case to State Crime Command’s Unsolved Homicide Team, raising the possibility that Johnson may have been murdered in a gay hate crime.
Steve Johnson, Scott’s brother, said that while police had to investigate all possibilities, he and his sister “believe in our hearts that Scott was murdered because he was gay”.
Daniel Glick, who has been investigating Scott’s death for over six years after being hired by his brother Steve, said that Scott may have been the victim of an “Australia-wide pattern of gay bashing” by gangs of young men in the 1980s and 1990s.
“There were gangs in Bondi and the Northern Beaches going from beat to beat to beat. It was like a sport. Hundreds and hundreds of gay men were viciously assaulted all over Sydney. There are arrest records and court documents to support this,” Glick said.
In 2001, former detective Sergeant Stephen Page began Operation Taradale, investigating a series of violent, often fatal assaults against gay men in the Eastern Suburbs throughout the 1980s.
In an interview with Four Corners after an inquest into the assaults in 2005, Page called gay bashing by gangs of youths “the team sport of the ‘80s”.
At Tuesday’s announcement, Glick said that while he had received testimony from “dozens and dozens” of gay men who were bashed at beats around the time of Scott’s death, he and Johnson’s family had long encountered difficulties when trying to inform police of their findings until now.
“Mostly, we’ve received nothing but silence. We submitted a lengthy report to the police in 2007 and the family never received a response, official or otherwise,” Glick said.
“During [Operation] Taradale, the police were completely focused on Bondi. We talked to the cops who were running that investigation back then and the second we tried to say that this was a Sydneywide-phenomenon, we got shut down.”
At the original inquest into Johnson’s death in 1989, Manly police stated that North Head area was not a known gay beat and was a known spot for suicidal ‘jumpers’.
According to extensive evidence gathered by Glick and Johnson’s family however, the area was a major gay beat at the time, and Scott’s body was the only one ever found at the base of those cliffs.
Glick contacted the Star Observer prior to the announcement to express concern that police “weren’t going to contact the gay press”.
“We were worried they were going to call in the usual suspects – cop reporters. We’re guessing [gay press] wouldn’t be at the top of their list of people to call,” Glick said.
The Star Observer received notice of the press conference from NSW Police an hour prior to the event in an email that was sent to a number of other news outlets.
Steve Johnson said that police had only told the family they were offering a reward the day before the announcement – the same day investigative news program Australian Story ran a feature on Scott’s death suggesting that he may have been murdered and recounting the difficulties with police the family endured.
On the program Sergeant Page said he believed “on balance that Scott was murdered” and urged police to investigate further.
“There are a number of persons of interest Dan and I have put together who may have been involved in Scott’s death. I don’t know if they’re being investigated by police, but they should be,” he said.
Olen said the timing of the announcement was due to the workload the Unsolved Homicide team has on its books and made no reply to Glick’s comments.
“I don’t want to be critical of the police back then, I wasn’t there. I’ve been in the police a long time, and attitudes have changed quite a bit,” he said at the press conference.
INFO: Anyone with information is urged to contact Crimestoppers on 1800 333 000.