The New South Wales Coroner’s Court will conduct a third inquest into the death of Scott Johnson. Scott died on Sydney’s northern beaches in 1988 in a suspected gay hate crime.
At the time, the police deemed the 27-year-old’s death a suicide. The initial coroner accepted the police judgement without any reservation.
Scott Johnson’s family: a gay hate crime
But Scott Johnson’s family always believed he fell victim to foul play, the victim of a gay hate crime. They lobbied for years for a re-examination of the case.
That led to a second inquest in 2012. It returned an open finding and referred the case back to police for re-investigation. This time, the state offered a $100,000 reward for information.
The family’s lawyer, John Agius SC, told the NSW Coroner’s Court this week a private investigation had identified 50 people of interest and five gangs who bashed gay men in the same general geographical area.
Outside court, Scott Johnson’s brother, Steve, expressed the family’s gratitude for the new inquest.
Family grateful for new inquest
“I came into this same building 26 years ago, in 1989, when the police had rushed to judgement, as they’ve done in so many other deaths of gay men in Sydney in that time,” he said.
“(The police) decided Scott had committed suicide with no evidence, without talking to the family and with no investigation whatsoever.”
The Homicide Squad conducted a new investigation and wrote to the coroner in March 2014 to request a re-examination.
Detective Chief Inspector Pamela Young, who led the latest investigation, said the court’s decision pleased the NSW Police.
“I believe there are some new pieces of information and potentially some evidence that the coroner could be interested in.
“But nonetheless, none of it directly relates to Scott being murdered.
“We very much look forward to the public of New South Wales getting to scrutinise the facts of the matter.”
In his published reasons for his decision, coroner Michael Barnes said the police located and interviewed new witnesses since the 2012 finding.
“Some purport to have evidence that could well lead to a different finding were it accepted.
“Further there are other legitimate considerations such as the right of the family and the public to have the new evidence tested in open court.
“That may allay suspicions and concerns held by the family and perhaps some members of the community.
“It may lead to a different finding as to how Scott Johnson died.”
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