A third inquest into the death of gay man Scott Johnson near Sydney has heard anecdotal evidence that gangs targeted gay men at the site of his death.
The 27-year-old mathmetician’s body was found below a 60-metre cliff at North Head, south-east of the Sydney suburb of Manly, in December 1988.
A first inquest in 1989 ruled Scott committed suicide, but a second inquest in 2012 delivered an open finding. A subsequent two-year investigation, Strike Force Macnamir, uncovered no evidence to support murder.
His older brother, Steve Johnson (pictured below, left), believes Scott was pushed or frightened off the cliff and his death was one of a spate of gay hate crimes in Sydney in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
A third inquest into the man’s death heard this week from several locals who relayed accounts of violence at the beat.
Gordon Sharp told the inquest at the New South Wales Coroner’s Court that he frequented the North Head beat between 1966 and 1976, the Guardian reported.
“Occasionally the word would come up, ‘bashers’. You’d hear the scream go up, grab your kit and piss off,” he said.
“Come that evening, you would find someone at the [local gay venue] Silver Dollar Bar who’d had a smacking around the head.
“No one saw the value of reporting to the police because you were likely to get another smacking from the police.”
Long-term Manly resident and volunteer lifeguard Robert Reed told the inquest he’d spoken to a young man who said he was assaulted by a group of men while he was sunbathing in the area, News Corp reported.
“I had been made aware of a group of approximately four males who would assault or rob people above the beach with one male acting as a provocateur of sorts,” he said.
“One male would lure gay men into the bush for possible sexual activity and the rest would assault and rob him in the bushes.”
Reed said a gay couple who lived nearby used to train a telescope on the bushes where men met for sex.
“They were always boasting about what they could see from their unit and one day they saw a guy being bashed and then they said he was also pushed off the rock ledge,” he said, according to Fairfax Media.
“I was horrified and said, ‘Did you call the police?’ They said, ‘No, nothing to do with us’. That was the end of my friendship by the way.”
Michael Noone, Scott’s partner at the time of his death, told the inquest, according to Fairfax Media, that Scott had earlier attempted to take his own life following a 1985 sexual encounter in which he was unfaithful to Noone.
“He was convinced that he had either contracted AIDS or exposed himself to a virus and he was deeply remorseful and decided to do away with himself by jumping off Golden Gate Bridge,” Noone said.
He said Scott told him when he got there “his muscles froze over until he was effectively physically incapable of carrying out his intent.”
The New South Wales Coroner has asked anyone with information relating to Johnson’s death to come forward.
The inquest continues.
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