THE State Coroner of NSW has ordered a third inquest on the 1980s death of Scott Johnson, whose family believe he was murdered in a gay-hate crime.
Johnson’s naked body was found at the bottom of a cliff at North Head, near Manly on Sydney’s northern beaches in December 1988. At the time, his death was deemed to be a suicide but his family believe he was thrown from the cliff and have since lobbied for the case to be re-investigated.
The first inquest in 1989 found Johnson committed suicide and there was no foul play involved, but this was overturned by a second inquest in 2012, which saw the case given back to NSW Police for re-investigation and with a $100,000 reward for information offered.
Although the Coroner’s Court heard today that NSW Police supported reopening the inquest, detectives do not believe it is possible to determine the exact cause of Johnson’s death.
The lawyer representing the police, Sarah Pritchard SC, said:“There have been suspicions, rumours, doubts and concerns that there have been gay-hate crimes in the Northern Beaches of Sydney and the response of police in relation to these crimes.”
The court heard that the third inquest would be an opportunity for these rumours and concerns to be addressed.
The family’s lawyer, John Agius SC, told the court today that a private investigation had identified 50 people of interest and five gangs who bashed gay men in the geographical area where Johnson‘s body was found.
After the hearing, Johnson’s brother said the family was thankful a new inquest would be held.
“I came into this same building 26 years ago, in 1989, when the police had rushed to judgement, as they’ve done in so many other deaths of gay men in Sydney in that time,” Steve Johnson told the media outside the Coroner’s Court.
“[The police] decided Scott had committed suicide with no evidence, without talking to the family and with no investigation whatsoever.
“The coroner at that time simply accepted the police judgement out of hand.
“The second inquest in 2012 considered the family’s investigative work. No police investigation had been done at that time.
“So we really see this as the first inquest.”
Johnson’s had family launched a campaign — which was backed by ACON — to bring his killers to justice and last week they urged people to attend today’s hearing to show the Coroner there was “significant public interest” in the case.
H/T ABC News