NSW inquiry to investigate 40 years of unsolved Sydney gay hate deaths

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has announced the most extensive inquiry into dozens of Sydney gay hate deaths that have gone unsolved in some cases for more than half a century.

The special commission of inquiry will be led by Supreme Court judge John Sackar and will investigate 88 unsolved murders committed against LGBTQI people from 1970 to 2010.

It is thought the inquiry may lead to new evidence being uncovered or bring previously unreported crimes to light.

A spate of brutal bashings and murders in Sydney brought terror to the LGBTQI community for decades and police were often not interested in the crimes.

Many gangs targeted gay men in parks and toilets, and victims were often found at the bottom of cliffs.

One such case was the murder of American mathematician Scott Johnson, who was found dead at the base of a cliff near Manly’s North Head. Police initially concluded the death was a suicide.

Another is the suspected murder of 25-year-old newsreader Ross Warren in 1989, which police initially said was a staged disappearance.

Mr Perrottet says he wants the inquiry to close one of the state’s darkest chapters.

“These unsolved deaths have left loving families without answers for too long,” Mr Perrottet said.

“This inquiry provides an opportunity to focus further scrutiny on suspected hate crimes, and under the leadership of Justice Sackar will work to close a dark chapter of our state’s history that has left an indelible mark.”

The inquiry will have significant powers, with Justice Sackar able to hold hearings, summon witnesses, and inspect documents.

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Scott Johnson’s brother spent around $1 million on an investigator to prove his death was the result of foul play.(Supplied: NSW Police)

A judicial inquiry was one of the key recommendations of a 2018 parliamentary committee into gay and transgender hate crimes, which found NSW Police were indifferent to such crimes and failed to properly investigate them at the time.

NSW Police established Strike Force Parrabell in 2013 to investigate the murders of 86 gay men and found a third of the killings were a result of gay bias.

The Strike Force found the AIDS crisis fueled homophobia but concluded it was “almost impossible” to identify a “gay-hate bias” from police investigators working on the cases.

Attorney-General Mark Speakman told the ABC the upcoming judicial inquiry aimed at giving grieving families some long-awaited answers.

“This is a really tough subject but an incredibly important one,” he said.

“Where there are unsolved deaths that have left loving families without answers for too long … no-one in our community should have to suffer the distress of not knowing what’s happened to someone they love.

“I think we have to get to the bottom of many unsolved cases.”

Independent Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich said the establishment of the commission was “long overdue”.

“It is disappointing that it has taken this long and I know that for the families, the friends and the communities of a number of the victims, that the length of time has really added to the trauma that they have experienced,” he said.

“We need to really learn from mistakes of the past, mistakes made by the police and others and make sure that we learn from these horrific times in the past to make sure this never happens again.”

Justice Sackar will deliver a final report to the Governor on or before June 30, 2023.

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