Special Commission To Examine Seven Gay Hate Crime Deaths In NSW

Special Commission To Examine Seven Gay Hate Crime Deaths In NSW
Image: Waverley Mayor Paula Masselos and ACON CEO Nic Parkhill at the Bondi Memorial for victims of anti-gay hate crimes in Sydney and NSW. Photo - John McRae

John Hughes was an out gay man, known to his friends as ‘Skinny John’ and lived in Kings Cross-Potts Point area.

Trigger Warning: This story discusses anti-LGBTQI hate crime deaths, 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.

In May 1989, 45-year-old Hughes was found dead in his apartment, with his hands and feet bound with an electrical cord and a pillow slip covering his head. He had suffered a blow to the back of his head with a blunt object and the cause of death was asphyxiation by a belt that was tightened around his head.

A flatmate, who witnessed said had referred to Hughes as a “faggot”  who “deserved to die” and was charged with the murder but was subsequently acquitted by a jury. 

Inquiry Commission Looks Into Individual Cases This Week

Hughes’ murder is one of the seven cases that will be reviewed by a  special commission of inquiry that is looking into unsolved LGBTQI hate crime deaths in Sydney between 1970 and 2010. 

The hearings into the unsolved deaths resumed on Tuesday. This week the special commission headed by Justice John Sackar will look into the deaths of Hughes, Graham Paynter, Russell Payne, William Dutfield, David Lloyd-Williams, Andrew Currie and Brian Walker.

According to the commission, counsel Assisting “will present, in public proceedings of the Inquiry, the first seven of what will in due course be a number of documentary tenders in respect of specific individual cases.”

Police Claimed No Evidence Of Hate Crime

The commission is looking into unsolved deaths of gay men and trans women that were considered by NSW Police Force’s Strike Force Parrabell to be potentially motivated by gay hate bias and all unsolved deaths in NSW between 1970 and 2010, where victims were members of the LGBTQI community.

The commission estimates that between 25 and 35 cases fall into these two categories. 

Thirty-three-year-old Russell Payne’s body was found in his home in the town of Inverell, NSW which is close to the Queensland border. The same year, 35-year-old Graham Paynter’’ body was found at the base of a cliff in the seaside town of Tathra, on the south coast of NSW. 

Strike Force Parabell had said that there was no evidence of anti-gay hate crimes in some of the cases, including that of Hughes.

During the commission’s first sitting in November and December 2022, the commission heard from witnesses about attacks on LGBTQI persons in Sydney in the 1980s and 1990s and the general feeling in the community that the police would not do anything about it. The commission also heard about bias against the community and that lack of resources had halted a 2014 reinvestigation into around 88 unsolved suspected anti-LGBTQI hate crime deaths in Sydney.

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