Man accused of murdering gay man Scott Johnson pleads not guilty

scott johnson nsw police arrest gay hate murder crime
Photos: Supplied, NSW Police

The Sydney man accused of murdering gay man Scott Johnson in Sydney more than 32 years ago has pleaded not guilty to the crime.

Johnson, an American national, was found dead in Sydney at the base of a cliff near Manly’s North Head on December 10, 1988.

On May 12, 2020, police arrested Scott Phillip White, at his home in Lane Cove, on Sydney’s lower north shore. Police later charged the 49-year-old with murder.

Police allege White met Johnson at a hotel before the pair walked to a gay beat at North Head in Sydney.

At the beat, Johnson removed his clothes before White allegedly panicked and punched him. Johnson then plunged to his death at Bluefish Point on December 10, 1988.

Police have alleged the crime was motivated by gay hatred.

On Thursday, Scott White appeared in the Central Local Court via video and entered a plea of not guilty to the murder charges.

The case will next go to the Supreme Court on March 5 this year.

Key informant came forward with information on Scott Johnson death

An initial inquest into Scott Johnson’s death found the 27-year-old mathematician and PhD student died by suicide.

But his brother Steve Johnson never accepted that finding. He campaigned for years to have Scott’s death investigated as a gay hate crime.

A third inquest in 2017, the NSW coroner ruled he was convinced the man had fallen victim to a gay hate crime.

In December 2018, NSW Police announced a $1 million reward for information. Steve Johnson later doubled the reward to $2 million.

Police previously said a key informant provided information that led to White’s arrest in the cold case.

It’s not known if that informant has received any of that money.

Steve Johnson told the ABC’s Australian Story program last year about his decades-long fight for the truth about his brother’s death.

“Finally, I’m going to have some answers,” he said.

“There’s no way to describe what that felt like.

“After 31-and-a-half years, they’ve apprehended the person they believe killed my brother.”

Police appeal for information in other suspected ‘gay hate’ deaths

Steve Johnson told Australian Story at least 10 other families had contacted him, believing their gay sons or brothers had suffered “gay hate” violence in Sydney.

“I’m really hoping this opens the door to some of the other men who have yet to receive justice,” he said.

“I can’t imagine that all or most of them will be solved. But the police should pay attention to all of them.”

There are numerous other suspected gay hate deaths in New South Wales that remain unsolved.

In some of the cases, NSW Police have offered rewards for new information.

Anyone with information on unsolved crimes can contact Crime Stoppers confidentially on 1800 333 000 or online.

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

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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.

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