POLICE in Newcastle have told the Star Observer they believe an assault at a known beat, which left a man hospitalised, was an “isolated incident” despite reports gangs are targeting gay men in the area.

A 39-year-old man admitted himself to hospital on Wednesday, October 22 after being assaulted in the early hours of the morning in a car park adjacent to Braye Park, in the suburb of Waratah.

The victim, who had suffered a flat tyre, said he was dazzled by a bright light — possibly the head lights of a black ute which was in the car park at the time — and was then struck by a “projectile” that police have speculated could be a rock or similar blunt object.

He is now recovering from his injuries after having to undergo surgery from the attack.

Local media have reported “recurring” incidents whereby groups of young men have been targeting late night visitors to the park who are in turn fearful of speaking out in case their activities are revealed.

“I know of one friend who was assaulted by two young men who then stole his mobile phone and car keys before threatening to throw him off the cliff,” one man told the Newcastle Herald on condition of anonymity.

Another person reported being “threatened by a guy carrying a samurai sword… and the police don’t seem to want to do anything with it”.

Talking to the Star Observer, Newcastle City Command Crime Manager Steve Laksa said police were taking the incident seriously but the investigation had been hampered by a lack of witnesses and the time it took for them to be notified, which may have led to evidence being removed from the crime scene.

Several other vehicles were in the car park at the time and Laksa appealed for any witnesses to contact the police or Crimestoppers. He said why they were at Braye Park was not of interest and “privacy and confidentiality will be maintained”.

While there was no direct evidence to suggest the incident was homophobic in nature Laksa said it couldn’t be ruled out as “it is a known beat in the early hours of the morning so it is a potential motive”.

“Crimes of this nature are always of concern but this appears to be an isolated incident,” he said.

“Compared to our local area [crime in the park is] really insignificant – you could even call it a safe place.

“But I wouldn’t encourage people go there of a night, however, and you do have to have to maintain your personal security.”

In the last 12 months, one robbery and three assaults had been reported in the vicinity of Braye Park and while police do patrol the area Laksa said: “We focus on areas of high violence and crime and that isn’t one.”

Over the last two years, non-domestic violent crime has fallen by 9.6 per cent in Newcastle, with Laksa saying there were no “significant issues” when it came to bias-related crime be that on the grounds of race or sexuality.

LGBTI health promotion body ACON confirmed they had been in discussions with local police following the incident.

Chief executive Nicolas Parkhill said while ACON had received no direct reports from community members about homophobic violence occurring in Braye Park, “due to coverage in the local media about homophobic violence occurring at this location, we would advise people who use this area as a beat to exercise caution in order to ensure their safety”.

Parkhill said reports of homophobic violence could also be made through ACON’s Anti-Violence Project.

If you can help police with this incident contact Crimestoppers on 1800 333 000 or ACON on (02) 9206 2116 or visit www.acon.org.au.

Have you experienced homophobic incidents at Braye Park? Get in touch with the Star Observer at editor@starobserver.com.au

(Image credit: Ann-Marie Calilhanna; Star Observer)

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