Ex-NSW Cop Reveals He Witnessed Gay Bashings By His Police Colleagues In Sydney In 1980s

Ex-NSW Cop Reveals He Witnessed Gay Bashings By His Police Colleagues In Sydney In 1980s
Image: Mark Higginbotham. Image: Channel 9

A former NSW police officer has come forward to reveal that he witnessed his colleagues bashing gay men in an organised manner in Sydney in the 1980s. 

“I’m doing it because I want the people who are victims of this conduct to be validated and for them to have their stories accepted,” former cop Mark Higginbotham told Channel Nine’s true crime program Under Investigation

Trigger Warning: This story discusses homophobic violence, which might be distressing to some readers. For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.

Higginbotham joined the NSW Police as a fresh-faced 19-year-old constable in the 1980s. The young police officer left the NSW police force in disgust after seeing and witnessing horrible conduct of his fellow officers. He later joined Victoria Police where he retired as a decorated police officer. 

The latest episode of Under Investigation took a look at the spate of bashings and murders of gay men and trans women in Sydney and NSW between 1970 and 2010. 

Gay Bashings By Gangs of Youth And Police


Gangs of youths, many still in high school or part of sporting clubs, and armed with “knives, planks of wood, hammers and battons” would seek out gay men at known gay beats and bash them. Around 88 deaths were reported in the period between 1970 and 2010, and 23 remain unsolved. Many assaults went unreported or reports were never registered by the police. 

While the police role has been spoken about, for the first time a former police officer has come forward on camera to reveal how the cops were often complicit in the attacks on gay men and trans women. 

Higginbotham said that soon after joining NSW Police he was asked to attend Moore Park in Sydney with six to 10 officers in multiple vehicles. 

“Batons drawn, police walked slowly, increasing speed, crossing the park and then eventually the lead police were running and ran into the toilets,” Higginbotham told Under Investigation.

Moore Park is a well known gay beat in Sydney, and Higginbotham soon realised this was not a regular police operation. 

“Men were running from the toilets, scattering and running away from the police. Eventually I understood that this was beating gay people and it was beating gay people with aluminium truncheons and it was done by on duty uniformed police.”

‘I Felt Powerless’

Higginbotham said he didn’t participate in the police violence, but admits he shares a responsibility.  “For people that were there in Moore Park, (they) didn’t look at me and think there’s a poor boy from the suburbs who’s been bullied into attending. They saw a New South Wales Police officer with a baton in hand and they would have been as terrified for me as anyone else in the group so I apologise for being part of that,” said the former cop. 

Higginbotham told the program that these organised gay bashings occured multiple times during his time in the force and there were officers who protected others guilty of hate crimes. 

In 1983, Higginbotham and his partner were out on patrol when a gay man approached them and reported that he had just been bashed. Higginbotham tracked down the accused, arrested him and took him to Darlinghurst police station to charge him for the crime. 

“I was typing out a document that was called a fact sheet when I became aware of the presence of the shift surgeon – senior person in the police station at the time. He started to scream at me, scream abuse at me. ‘We don’t charge ‘poofter bashers’ here. What have you done?’ And he was enraged and did overwhelm me,” recalled Higginbotham, adding that he felt “powerless”.

I Was Labeled A “Faggot”

Have You Been A Victim Or Witnessed A Gay Hate Crime In Sydney between 1970-2010? Inquiry Wants To Know

Higginbotham, however, charged the accused and the next day the victim, who was a gay journalist wrote about it in his paper. The former police officer said it led to him being treated as an outcast in the police station. 

“I was told that I had brought aggravated shame on the police station because I had not only charged a man with ‘poofter bashing’ – I am comfortable using the phrase but that’s the way it was described – but it had been reported. People would not work with me. I was labeled a “faggot”. And people would would overtly announced that they would not work with a “faggot”,” said Higginbotham .

“There must be people in New South Wales Police who I worked with. I mean, there were many, many young people my age, many 19-year-olds, 20-year-olds working at Darlinghurst (police station). It’s not far-fetched to think that people still work there. It was wrong. It was clearly wrong to poke with a stick, hitting someone on the head. There’s no moral confusion about that. It’s ugly, it’s wrong. It’s criminal. And it’s done in police uniform,” said Higginbotham.

Under Investigation spoke to Kint Verity, who was a teenager in Sydney in the early 1980s, and reported to the Cronulla Police Station  about being gay bashed. Verity said he received no “empathy” and it scared him so much that he ran out without filing a report. 

The other shocking case was that of  Alan Rosendale, who was attacked by a group of men in Moore Park. A witness Paul Simes told Under Investigation that he reported the licence plate of the attackers’ vehicle to the police and was told it was an unmarked police car.

The Special Commission of Inquiry into LGBTIQ hate crimes in NSW is hearing from anyone with information about any LGBTIQ hate crime deaths in NSW between 1970 and 2010, including these areas in Sydney. Contact the Special Commission, here.

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