Witness in Scott Johnson murder case may get big reward

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

The man accused of murdering gay man Scott Johnson will remain in custody as police say a single informant may get part of the $2 million reward for coming forward.

Yesterday, police charged Scott Phillip White with the alleged 1988 gay hate murder of Scott Johnson, in a stunning breakthrough.

On Wedneday, White’s lawyers did not apply for bail in Parramatta Local Court. The men will next face court in July.

Johnson’s body was found at the base of a cliff near Manly’s North Head in December 1988. In 2018, police offered a $1 million reward for information, which Johnson’s brother Steve doubled in March.

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said the $2 million reward played a part in the major breakthrough.

“There’s certainly one witness, on conviction, that would be eligible for part of the reward absolutely,” he said on Wednesday.

Commissioner Fuller urged people not to “underestimate how one small piece of the puzzle” can solve a cold case.

“I just truly hope that the people who have information – no matter how small it is – have the courage to come forward,” he said.

The 27-year-old’s death was initially ruled a suicide in 1989. But a second inquest in June 2012 returned an open finding.

However, a third inquest in 2017 determined Johnson fell from the clifftop as the result of anti-gay violence.

In 2018, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller referred the case to specialist investigative team Strike Force Welsford.

Lead investigator Detective Chief Inspector Peter Yeomans said the case was “exceptionally complex” and he thanked everyone involved.

“When we got the job we didn’t have a body. We didn’t have any DNA evidence [or] forensic evidence,” he said.

“We couldn’t have solved it without the community coming forward with information.”

Scott Johnson inquest hears confronting stories about gay hate crimes

Police Commissioner Fuller said both Steve Johnson’s personal investigations and the third inquest unearthed “pretty confronting” stories of historical gay hate crimes.

“It shone a pretty dark light on the life of young gay men in Sydney in the 80s,” Fuller said.

“Some of the witnesses gave evidence about either being victims or themselves being out bashing gay men.

“I do think the plight of young gay men in Sydney, and probably around the world, was a very difficult one.

“Not only were they let down by police, they were let down by the community and probably the media.

“I apologised to Steve Johnson and I’ve apologised to a number of communities about mistakes we’ve made in the past.

“An apology is one thing but actions will always speak louder than words. Delivering an outcome for Steve and the family and the broader community was important to me.

“We can’t give back the 30 years of pain and hurt to the Johnson family but at least we can pursue justice.”

In 2015, NSW Police established Strike Force Parabell to investigate 88 unsolved cases across Sydney and broader New South Wales.

Of them, police identified 27 likely motivated by gay hate, including the death of Scott Johnson.

Anyone with information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers confidentially on 1800 333 000 or online.

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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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