A review of 88 suspicious deaths in Sydney over three decades has found that 27 men were likely to have been the victims of gay hate crimes.
Strike Force Parrabell was established in 2015 to review 88 deaths between 1976 and 2000 which researchers highlighted as having potential gay-hate bias motivation or connection with the LGBTIQ community.
A team of police investigators and independent academics looked at whether perpetrators had shown evidence of gay-hate motivation, and the team agreed eight of the deaths were the result of gay hate bias.
Of the 88 cases, the strike force classified a further 19 suspected as gay-hate bias-related crimes, amounting to 27 cases. Of those cases, five remain unsolved. Twenty-five cases had insufficient evidence but gay-hate bias could not be ruled out.
The strike force’s report acknowledges both the NSW Police and society’s “acceptance of gay bashings and violence directed towards gay men” at the time, with the AIDS crisis in the 1980s fuelling homophobic attitudes which resulted in attacks going unreported.
“We accept that there were mistakes made. We accept there are improvements required. We accept that we can learn from the past and we can do better,” NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Tony Crandell said.
“It’s an ugly part of our history – it needs to be acknowledged – and we need to do everything we can to make sure no one is ever again fearful for their life because of who they are.
“Based on societal values and attitudes at the time, I acknowledge the likelihood of historical bias, whether in small groups or more widespread across the organisation.
“This however is absolutely not acceptable in the culture of a modern-day NSW Police Force and I can assure the community there are policies, procedures, and systematic checkpoints in place today that negate inaction due to bias.”
New South Wales LGBTIQ health organisation ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill said the report confirms a substantial number of the crimes were motivated by homophobia.
“It is also states that there was a high proportion of cases where there was insufficient evidence to absolutely determine bias,” he said.
“These findings are alarming and speak to the extraordinarily high level of violent crimes that were directed to members of our community during this time, often going unaccounted for.
“Victims of these crimes, as well as their surviving loved ones and family members, deserve truth, justice and closure.”
Assistant Commissioner Crandell said NSW Police would implement all 12 of the strike force’s recommendations on improve the force’s investigations of potential gay-hate crimes, including improvements in record-keeping, continued LGBTIQ training for all NSW Police officers and an expansion of the LGBTIQ Liaison Officer (GLLO) program.
Mr Parkhill questioned if the recommendations go far enough and has called for an independent investigation into the actions of the various arms of the criminal justice system to “fully understand the impediments to justice during the violent period.”
“Concerns have been raised in the past about whether the police can objectively review themselves and their practices,” he said.
“An independent process would provide confidence that we have explored the issues and that any recommendations to ensure this cannot happen again are robust and sufficient.
“Out of respect to the many victims and their families – not to mention the broader LGBTI community – an independent process would demonstrate that these are issues that our governments and institutions take seriously, which we learn from, and prevent from reoccurring.”
In May, ACON published its own report documenting the “dark period” of the 1970s to 2000 in New South Wales during which “numerous gay men were documented to have disappeared in suspicious circumstances, or were known to have been killed.”
“Many were brutal, including stabbings, strangulation, bludgeoning, shooting, sexual assaults and frenzied attacks,” the report said.
“Some were crimes shaped by prejudice, targeted towards people based on their perceived homosexuality, and in some cases fuelled by HIV stigma.
“These deaths were also accompanied by violence more broadly inflicted on the community – assaults, violence, harassment and abuse.”
One of the cases, the 1988 death of young mathematician Scott Johnson (pictured), was determined to be the result of a gay hate crime during a coronial inquest last November, a finding which was reaffirmed by Strike Force Parrabell.
ACON has renewed calls for a formal apology from the NSW Police Force to the LGBTIQ community for “the inadequate or slow responses to violence throughout this period.”
“This would send a positive sign to any same-sex attracted couple who are still too frightened to hold hands in many places around the state for fear of violence,” Parkhill said.
“Importantly, it will go a long way in healing the grief and trauma experienced by victims, families and other members of our communities.”