NSW’s Special Inquiry into LGBTIQ Hate Crimes concludes

Special Commission of Inquiry into LGBTIQ hate crimes
Image: ABC News

QNews looks back on the Special Commission of Inquiry into LGBTIQ Hate Crimes in NSW following the close of its final hearing.

On November 14, the Senior Counsel Assisting the Special Commission of Inquiry into LGBTIQ Hate Crimes delivered his final address.

Mr Peter Gray is foreshadowing some of what Justice John Sackar may recommend to the NSW Government when he delivers his Final Report by December 15.

Since the establishment of the Special Commission into LGBTIQ Hate Crimes in April last year, it has issued a total of 200 summonses to NSW Police to produce documents and another 283 to more than 80 other institutions.

It made 51 requests to the Coroners Court and other NSW courts and agencies while issuing 121 summonses to persons requiring them to attend and give evidence at the inquiry.

As a result of those summonses and requests, the Special Commission of Inquiry into LGBTIQ Hate Crimes reviewed more than 150,000 documents, some of them running to hundreds of pages.

The Commission also employed an army of more than 30 solicitors and legal support staff from the Crown Solicitor’s Office in its task of reexamining more than 30 unsolved deaths, which occurred between 13 and 53 years ago.

These were deaths where victims were LGBTIQA+ people or could have been perceived to be by their killers and were primarily gay men along with a group of transgender women.

The Commission also reviewed information from more than 130 members of the public as well as family and friends of the deceased persons.

It held 17 public hearings over twelve months to examine evidence and written and oral submissions in relation to these 32 suspicious deaths and another 48 private hearings related to deaths still under investigation or aspects of police investigative practices that must remain confidential.

Four public hearings were concerned with the social and political contexts of the period under review: the Unsolved Homicide squad strike forces Parrabell, Macnamir and Neiwand; investigative practices in relation to unsolved homicides in NSW; and delays and problems in relation to the production of records by NSW Police.

The Commission also issued summonses to NSW Police for information about the disappearances of 277 people.

Where police were able to produce exhibits, the Commission arranged for modern forensic testing and obtained advice from a wide variety of consultants from fields, including forensic pathology, cardiology, neurosurgery, forensic psychiatry, toxicology, bloodstain pattern analysis, and coastal geomorphology.

“In every single case which the Special Commission has considered, every possible attempt has been made to bring to the surface everything that can be ascertained, as of now, about the death of that person and about the efforts made in the past to investigate that death,” Peter Gray SC said in his closing remarks in November.

“In all those ways, the community can be satisfied that the Special Commission has, indeed, “shone a light on everything that is known and can be found out about what happened”.

“That includes not only seeking out the truth about what happened at the moment in which each of these people died.

“It also includes seeking out the truth about what happened after they died: in the original investigations many years ago; at the inquests, where there was one; in subsequent reviews and investigations, where there have been any; in the storing and organising and testing of exhibits and documentary records.

“Some of those aspects of the search for truth have focused on the NSW Police, past and present. That, in turn, has meant the need to scrutinise not only the work of the police in relation to those various investigations, reviews and practices but also how the police have chosen to participate in this Inquiry in 2022 and 2023.”

Mr Gray told the Commission in his final remarks that the suggestion by the NSW Police that “while it may once have harboured negative or dismissive attitudes towards LGBTIQ people, or towards the investigation of crimes committed against them, that was a relic of the past,” was a disappointment.

“It is certainly true and fully recognised by the LGBTIQ community that there have been many positive developments within the NSW Police Force since the 1990s in terms of its relationship with the LGBTIQ community.

“However, on one view, it might be thought there are some noticeable resonances between the three strike forces considered in Public Hearing 2, strike forces Macnamir, Parrabell and Neiwand.

“All three arose in the context of … media publicity … All three arrived at outcomes … that were remarkably consistent.

Then, “Strikeforce Macnamir maintained … that the death of Scott Johnson at North Head in 1988 was unlikely to be a homicide at all and much more likely to be suicide.

Furthermore, “Strikeforce Neiwand maintained that the deaths of the three men near Bondi in the 1980s, contrary to the explicit findings by Coroner [Jacqueline] Milledge … may well not have been gay hate murders either.

“Strikeforce Parrabell maintained that of the 23 [deaths] that it regarded as unsolved, not one met the threshold for evidence of bias crime.

“Unsurprisingly, the reaction of many in the LGBTIQ community was one of dismay and disbelief.

“There would have appeared to have been present in three separate strike forces simultaneously an attitude of mind which was resistant to acknowledging the extent of the hostility experienced by LGBTIQ people in the 40-year period under examination in this Special Commission.

“If that is so, it is to be regretted, and it may be hoped that the experience of this Special Commission may assist in dispelling such views for all time.”

Among the recommendations proposed by Mr Gray to Commissioner Sackar in his final remarks is the systematic and regular review of all unsolved homicide cases in NSW by police, including an audit of the exhibits retained in respect of each case and their location. A two-year review cycle was recommended.

He also recommended a review of existing procedures and allocation of resources within the NSW Police’s Unsolved Homicide squad.

Develop additional and mandatory training for NSW Police personnel concerning the LGBTIQA+ community, incorporating input from LGBTIQA+ representatives and organisations, as a third recommendation.

Mr Gray also told the Commissioner that in “almost all of the cases considered by this Special Commission … it is likely to be possible for you … to make findings as to cause of death [and] manner of death.”

“In all those respects, such findings will be made by reference to the civil standard of proof, namely, the balance of probabilities,” Gray said.

Gray told Commissioner Sackar that fourteen of the deaths reviewed by the inquiry “were homicides, and for six of the deaths, there is, objectively, reason to suspect that they were homicides.”

“Of those 20 deaths that either were homicides or there is, objectively, reason to suspect that they were, all 20 were cases in which there is also, objectively, reason to suspect that LGBTIQ bias was a factor.”

This was a stark difference from what the Unsolved Homicides squad had determined in 2016: “Evidence of Bias Crime, zero. Suspected Bias Crime, five.”

The Special Commission also concluded that another four unsolved deaths fell within its Terms of Reference. Those were Ernest Head (died 1976), Barry Jones (died 1976), Peter Baumann (died 1983), and Anthony Cawsey (died 2009).

These were the subject of hearings of the Special Commission, as were the deaths of Scott Johnson (died 1988) and Raymond Keam (died 1987), though to a different degree as they were both before the courts during the inquiry and have now been solved.

-The Johnson family previously employed Andrew Potts.

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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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