Scott Johnson, whose body was found at the base of a cliff in Manly in 1988, was murdered as the result of a homophobic hate crime, an inquest has declared.
Johnson’s death at the time was ruled a suicide, and his family has been fighting for justice ever since.
“I am of the view it is very unlikely Scott took his own life,” said coroner Michael Barnes.
Johnson’s body was found naked at the bottom of a 60-metre cliff at North Head, at a time when robberies, homophobic assaults and murders were rife in Sydney.
“I conclude it is very likely that gay hate crimes were committed at the relevant location at around the time Scott died,” Barnes said.
Barnes noted that Johnson’s wallet was not found with his clothes or at the home of his partner, Michael Noone, with whom he was staying at the time, ABC News reported.
Back in June, the inquest heard from a witness that a local group had been bragging about targeting and assaulting gay men.
The witness said a group called the Narrabeen Skinheads were allegedly heard bragging about assaulting an “American faggot”.
Barnes also concluded that although Johnson’s clothes had been found near the cliff’s edge undamaged and folded, he may have already been naked when set upon by one or more possible attackers.
“When Scott Johnson’s body smashed into the rocks … a life full of promise and exciting potential was tragically cut short and his family lost a cherished member,” Barnes said.
Independent MP Alex Greenwich welcomed the coroner’s findings.
“The finding confirms again the poor policing and wider community homophobia that occurred during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s when “poofter-bashing” was a serious issue,” he said.
“This is the third inquest into Scott’s death, and the result is a testament to Scott’s family’s persistence.
“The gay community and police have made strong gains to make sure that gay hate murders are properly investigated. We need to make sure this and never occurs again.”
ACON previously backed the Johnson family’s campaign to bring his killers to justice.
“We hope that today’s ruling brings into sharp focus a resolution as to what actually happened to Scott on the cliffs of Manly, recognising that it is just one more step in in a long path toward justice,” ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill said in a statement.
“Scott’s untimely death has fuelled unprecedented public speculation. We believe these deaths were not always sufficiently investigated with the requisite due diligence, and have subsequently left many questions in their wake.
“The deaths and disappearances of gay men and transgender women and the epidemic of violence during these decades has left legacy.
“Bias-motivated violence and murder are crimes that hurt both physically and emotionally, and the impact is felt deeply, both individually and communally.”
Parkhill noted that while NSW Police processes and cultures have shifted, there remains a dark history of cases not treated with due process which need to be investigated and accounted for.
“Scott’s death and today’s ruling should be a siren for all, including the NSW Government and NSW Police, that full weight of justice has not been delivered to the perpetrators of this and other horrendous crimes.
“Significantly more work, attention and resources need to be dedicated to righting these historical wrongs,” Parkhill concluded.