COMMUNITY pressure is mounting for an inquiry into historical gay-hate crimes that has left a trail of countless victims and a cloud hanging over NSW Police almost four decades later.
Last week, Sydney state independent MP Alex Greenwich joined the family of Scott Johnson – an American believed to have been murdered at clifftops near Manly Beach in December 1988 – to urge the NSW Government to allow the Ombudsman to commence an investigation into links between scores of attacks on gay men across Sydney from the late 1970s onwards.
The calls for an inquiry with Royal Commission-like powers have also been backed by several gay men who claimed to have been victims of police brutality and have suggested that homophobic attitudes within NSW Police are why many bashings and murders remained unsolved.
A study into these murders by the University of Newcastle found that at least 74 homicides in Sydney since 1980 could be termed as gay killings.
Operation Taradale, a 2005 police review into some of the cases, exposed a pattern of attacks against gay men in the Bondi area. The Star Observer reported last year that about 30 murders remained unsolved and many of its suspects were never charged.
It is believed many of the crimes were committed by young men with links to inner-city gangs that were prevalent at the time.
Greenwich said there was concern that the crimes were never properly investigated.
“The victims and their families deserve justice,” he told the Star Observer.
“[They] have raised with me concerns about the way murders were investigated, and in some cases it has been alleged that murders were completely ignored.”
Newtown resident Alan Rosendale, who survived a beating at Moore Park in 1989, said his case was an example of how homophobia within NSW Police was prevalent during the spate of killings and how police inaction continued today.
Mid-last year, it was revealed by Fairfax Media and Star Observer that at least one witness had seen Rosendale’s assailants entering a car with registration plates that matched an unmarked police car. Officers tasked with investigating the incident at the time did not take a statement from Rosendale, and instead listed the identity of the alleged attackers as “a gang of skinheads”.
The witness, Paul Syme, was then informed that the officers allegedly responsible for the attack had been disbanded. No further investigation took place.
Rosendale said that despite police taking his statement for the first time last August, a few months later Surry Hills police decided to drop the investigation due to a lack of records dating to 1989.
“There must be records, it’s a government department and one of the city’s biggest stations,” he said.
“We need answers. It’s not good enough at the moment.”
The Star Observer requested comment from NSW Police and Surry Hills police commander and head LGBTI officer Tony Crandell but no response was received at the time of print.
In response to the claims, a spokesperson for NSW Police said the investigation into the alleged assault upon Rosendale in 1989 was still continuing despite being hampered by a number of record-keeping issues.
“The original investigating police officer is no longer serving with the NSW Police Force however contact with him revealed he had no recollection of the incident due to the passage of time. A search of archives is continuing however to date no records beyond the initial report to police have been locate,” the spokesperson said.
“The witness’ statement has been reviewed however there is no discernible link between the observations of the witness and the assault of Mr Rosendale beyond occurrence when the weather was cooler along South Dowling Street at Moore Park.
“The incident witnessed was investigated by the equivalent of Professional Standards Command in 1989 with difficulties locating, identifying and therefore extracting archived records which are still being searched.”
Greens Upper House MP, David Shoebridge, who has also long been pushing for an investigation, told the Star Observer that it was only the tenacity of victims like Rosendale and the large amounts of money and time spent by the Johnson family and others that had kept the issue alive.
“A thorough independent investigation of these historical cases is long overdue,” Shoebridge said.
“Many in the community would not be satisfied by an internal police review, what is required is a thorough external investigation overseen by either the Police Integrity Commission or the Ombudsman.”
NSW Police have indicated they will be submitting a final report on the circumstances of Johnson’s death to the Coroner in coming months.