Police used secret strike force to disregard coroner’s findings in gay homicide cases

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Late Sydney newsreader Ross Warren. Images: Danesk1/Wikimedia Commons, NSW Police (inset)

The Special Commission of Inquiry into LGBTIQ Hate Crimes has heard that NSW Police created a secret task force to reinvestigate the Bondi deaths of Ross Warren, Gilles Mattaini and John Russell but then closed those cases without telling the public or the victims’ families.

In 2005, then deputy state coroner, Jacqueline Milledge had found that Warren and Russell’s deaths were most likely “homicides” not suicides or deaths from misadventure.

She also found the manner of Mattaini’s death was undeterminable due to a lack of material evidence, but that it was likely he had also met with foul play due to several other attacks on gay men in the area.

Thai student Kritchikorn Rattanajaturathaporn was found dead on the rocks at South Bondi in July of 1990 after being hurled off a cliff by three males, while another man, David McMahon, narrowly escaped being thrown off a cliff in the same area by a gang of 18 teenagers around the same time.

As Russell had been found dead at the bottom of the cliffs at Tamarama and Warren’s car and keys were found near cliffs at Marks Park, Milledge was convinced that both men had met their fate in a similar way.

But Strike Force Neiwand, set up to reexamine their deaths in 2015, did not seek any new information about those deaths from the public, only interviewed a handful of suspects out of 116 persons of interest, and then decided that there was not enough new information for the investigation to proceed forward.

Police decided to wrap up Neiwand in 2017 and concluded internally that Warren, Russell and Mattaini deaths should be classified as “‘undetermined” in contradiction of Jacqueline Milledge ‘s findings and the cases were secretly closed.

Not even the coroner or the victims’ families were told about the existence of Strike Force Neiwand, which only became known to the public due to the Special Commission’s investigations.

According to a transcript of the hearing, Counsel Assisting the inquiry, Peter Gray SC told Commissioner, Justice John Sackar, that the evidence showed Strike Force Neiwand was not interested in investigating the deaths as homicides.

“What we submit … is the evidence establishes that Strike Force Neiwand made virtually no attempt to investigate, as homicides, the deaths of any of these three men,’ Gray said.

“Notwithstanding that coroner Milledge had expressly found that the deaths of Mr Russell and Mr Warren were homicides and had expressed the view that the death of Mr Mattaini probably was as well.

“Instead, what Neiwand did was to direct its very considerable efforts and resources over the better part of two years, to attempting to build a case for contradicting and overturning the findings of coroner Milledge

The Special Commission of Inquiry will return to examine the investigative practices of police in relation to some of the unsolved deaths of 88 gay men during this week’s hearings.

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.

Andrew M Potts

Andrew has been covering LGBTQIA+ issues for a range of publications in Australia over two decades and was the Asia-Pacific correspondent for global LGBTQIA+ news website Gay Star News.

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

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