Ex-cop witnessed gay bashings by NSW Police colleagues in 1980s

Former NSW Police officer Mark Higginbotham appeared on Nine's Under Investigation program
Images: Nine

A former NSW Police officer has recalled the organised assaults he witnessed by police officers against gay men in Sydney in the 1980s.

Channel Nine’s true crime program Under Investigation this week examined the spate of homophobic violence by gangs that terrorised Sydney’s gay community in the 1980s and 90s.

The program heard from several victims of the vicious bashings, including Kint Verity, who was a teenager in Sydney in the early 1980s.

Warning: distressing content and language

One night in Darlinghurst, Verity was tricked into a van by four men, who savagely beat and tortured him.

He escaped with his life, but when he reported the assault at Cronulla Police Station he said he received “no empathy or support”.

“I felt like they might have even had a bit of a laugh about it,” Verity told Under Investigation.

“They didn’t want to get involved. They didn’t care. I ended up getting scared and running out.”

Under Investigation also spoke to Sydney man Alan Rosendale, who was savagely attacked by a group of men at the Moore Park gay beat.

Witness Paul Simes witnessed the attack that night. Simes was later told by police the attackers’ license plate belonged to an unmarked police car.

Former NSW Police officer Mark Higginbotham appeared on Under Investigation and spoke out about the involvement of officers themselves in the violence.

Now a senior decorated Victoria Police officer, Higginbotham began his career in the 1980s as a 19-year-old recruit in NSW Police. He would later leave the force in disgust at what he saw.

‘It was clearly wrong’

Higginbotham recalled witnessing police targeting and bashing gay men, including several times at a gay beat in Moore Park.

One night in 1983, Higginbotham witnessed uniformed police setting upon and attacking gay men with aluminium batons at the beat.

“I was tasked to attend Moore Park with, I think, six to ten other police in multiple vehicles,” he told Under Investigation.

“Eventually, I understood that this was beating gay people. It was done by on duty uniformed police.”

Higginbotham said while he never took part in the assaults, he felt remorse for his association with the violence.

“It was wrong, it was clearly wrong. A bloke with a stick is hitting someone on the head… there’s no moral confusion about that,” he said.

“It’s ugly, it’s wrong, it’s criminal. And it was done in police uniform.”

Higginbotham said he was speaking out because he wants “the people who are victims of this conduct to be validated and for them to have their stories accepted.”

“And to the extent that it’s useful, I apologise for being part of that. It is a painful admission,” he said.

“The people that were there in Moore Park didn’t look at me and think, ‘Uh, there’s a poor boy from the suburbs who’s being bullied into attending.’

“They saw a NSW Police officer with a baton in their hand. They would have been as terrified of me as anyone else in the group.”

‘We don’t charge poofter bashers here’

The same year, Higginbotham apprehended an offender who had admitted to violently beating a gay man. Higginbotham took him to Darlinghurst Police Station to charge him.

“I was typing out a document called a fact sheet, when I became aware of the presence of the shift sergeant, the senior person in the station at the time,” he said.

When his shift sergeant discovered Higginbotham typing up the charge sheet, he became “enraged”.

“He started to scream abuse at me. The expression he used was, ‘We don’t charge poofter bashers here. What have you done?'” he said.

“He was enraged. It overwhelmed me and just made me feel powerless.”

Later, the victim, who was a gay journalist, wrote a positive story about Higginbotham, who is heterosexual, and his station in a gay newspaper.

“I was told I had brought ‘aggravated shame’ on the police station,” Higginbotham said.

“Because not only had I charged a man with poofter bashing – I’m uncomfortable using the phrase, but that’s the way it was described – but it had been reported.

“People would not work with me. I was labelled a, quote, ‘f___t’. People would overtly announce that they would not work with the f____t.”

Mark Higginbotham left NSW Police in disgust

Higginbotham felt he had no recourse. Shortly after that incident, he left NSW Police in disgust over what he says he witnessed.

“There must be people still in New South Wales Police who I worked with. There were many, many young people my age,” he said.

“Many 19-year-olds, 20-year-olds, working at Darlinghurst. It’s not far-fetched to think that people still work there.

“I can’t be the only person who saw it as reprehensible. That’s just not possible.”

Higginbotham challenged others to come forward.

“35,000 people have been employed by NSW Police since I was employed. I wonder how many of those 35,000 were exposed to events that they saw as ugly,” he said.

“Eventually I left in disgust. I wonder how many other people did the same.”

Higginbotham first went public with the alleged historical assaults by police officers in the Sydney Morning Herald podcast Bondi Badlands last year.

A NSW Police spokesperson told the Herald that in 1990, the force established the LGBTIQ Liaison Officer program to respond to historical incidents of violence directed at members of the LGBTIQ community.

NSW inquiry into unsolved ‘gay hate’ murders

A state inquiry into historical suspected “gay hate” deaths – but not historical assaults – will begin hearings soon.

The Special Commission of Inquiry will examine dozens of unsolved deaths in the state between 1970 and 2010.

Supreme Court judge John Sackar is heading the inquiry, and will report by June 2023.

The inquiry has encouraged anyone with information on unsolved deaths – however major or minor – to come forward.

If this has brought up issues for you, help is available from QLife on 1800 184 527 or online at QLife.org.au, Lifeline on 13 11 14, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

Stream the full Under Investigation episode on 9Now or below:

For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Jordan Hirst
Jordan Hirst

Jordan Hirst is an experienced journalist and content creator with a career spanning over a decade at QNews. Since 2012, the Brisbane local has covered an enormous range of topics and subjects in-depth affecting the LGBTIQA+ community, both in Australia and overseas. Today, the Brisbane-based journalist covers everything from current affairs, politics and health to sport and entertainment.

QNews, Brisbane Gay, App, Gay App, LGBTI, LGBTI News, Gay Australia

1 Comment

  1. Peter Turner
    25 October 2022

    All the right noise is being made but recent dealings with Police make me believe that the underlying attitude of some members of the Force hasn’t changed.
    As a member of the LGBTQI+ community I would still hesitate before taking any issue up with the Police.
    It is a shame because all of the good officers get lumped in with the bad ones.

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