Former NSW cop speaks out about historical gay bashings by police

darlinghurst police station 1978 78ers
Darlinghurst Police Station in 1978. Image: Branco Gaica

A former NSW Police officer has spoken out for the first time about the assaults he witnessed by police officers against gay men in Sydney in the 1980s.

Mark Higginbotham was an officer within the NSW Police at Darlinghurst station through the 1980s.

Warning: distressing content

He’s opened up for the first time about his time in the force in a new Sydney Morning Herald podcast by journalist Greg Callaghan.

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

“The thing that was most disturbing initially for me was the baton charging I saw occur maybe five times at Moore Park,” Higginbotham told the Herald.

“I can remember walking across the park behind the fast-advancing police.

“[I saw] them surge forward with batons and hearing physical confrontation in the toilet blocks.

“I recall men running – not everyone was in the building – and yelling that the police were advancing.”

But Higginbotham said he can’t remember officers ever discussing the assaults at Darlinghurst station.

“I was never part of any debrief,” he explained.

“If police were involved in a violent confrontation of that kind, it was quite routine to check in with each other’s recollections.

“But not on this.”

NSW police officer told ‘we don’t arrest people for poofter bashing’

Higginbotham told the Herald the officers’ anger towards the gay men was shocking to him “in the middle of a gay area”.

In one horrifying 1983 episode, he arrested a man accused of a gay bashing just blocks from his station.

Higginbotham saw the bloodied victim, who he believed was gay, outside the station and asked him what happened.

“Then I asked him if he felt well enough to identify his attacker,” he recalled.

“He jumped in the back of the car and we drove around the neighbouring streets in a random patrol.

“Pretty quickly the victim pointed out ‘that’s him’. My partner and I approached his alleged assailant.

“A violent scuffle followed. We had the attacker on the ground before handcuffing him and radioed for a transport vehicle.”

But when Higginbotham returned the suspect to the station, he got a horrifying response from a senior colleague.

The senior sergeant on shift screamed at Higginbotham. In front of all his colleagues, he told Higginbotham “we don’t arrest people for poofter bashing”.

“The sergeant was in a rage because fingerprinting had been done and the charging process couldn’t be stopped,” he recalled.

“He was furious that a man was being charged with a gay hate crime. His condemnation of me was sustained and public.”

Higginbotham added, “It ended with me standing there, like a child, absolutely humiliated and overcome with disbelief.

“I had so much self-respect and pride in being a police officer. It was stripped away from me in that moment.”

Former NSW police officer ‘still angry’ years later

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

That sparked a vicious campaign of anti-gay bullying from at least two senior staff, Higginbotham recalled.

Encouraged by family to speak out, Higginbotham explained he felt powerless to do so.

“Anyone who rocked the boat could be set up. Drugs planted in their locker, or whatever,” he said.

“It wasn’t unusual to hear police discussing overt violence against anyone who complained.”

Higginbotham became a prosecutor in the local court system in inner Sydney. He later quit the NSW Police in 1987.

“When I left NSW Police I was enraged about the experience. It still makes me angry,” he said.

He moved to Victoria and has now been a Victoria Police officer for 29 years. He’s now senior sergeant.

‘Time is running out’ to bring perpetrators to justice

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

Mark Higginbotham shared his recollections in the Sydney Morning Herald‘s podcast Bondi Badlands, by Greg Callaghan.

The five-part podcast investigates the series of gay hate violence in Sydney in the 1980s and 1990s.

In May, a NSW parliamentary inquiry found NSW Police “failed to properly investigate” the historical gay hate crimes.

The inquiry called for a judge to head a new investigation, with the power to call witnesses and examine evidence.

Committee chair Shayne Mallard said “time is running out” to hold perpretrators accountable for the violent crimes.

“This is unfinished business for the gay, lesbian and transgender community, which collectively still mourns the crimes,” Mallard said.

Last month, a memorial to victims and survivors of gay hate violence was officially unveiled at Marks Park in Tamarama.

Bondi Badlands is streaming now on Apple, Google and Spotify.

If this has brought up issues for you, support is available from QLife on 1800 184 527 or online at, Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

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1 Comment

  1. Peter Turner
    12 November 2021

    Oh yes “poofter bashing” was quite the sport for Police Officers during the 70s, 80s and 90s. It wasn’t confined to Sydney but flourished in all our major cities. No one was game to complain because you knew the complaint would only bring further unwanted attention. It was also quite common for them to “out” us in our workplaces and to our landlords, even to our parents.

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