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Third inquest to investigate Sydney gay man’s death

Scott Johnson, who died after falling from rocks at North Head in 1988. His family have always maintained he was the victim of a gay-hate crime. Photo NSW Police

Scott Johnson, who died after falling from rocks at North Head in 1988. His family have always maintained he was the victim of a gay-hate crime. Photo NSW Police

Sydney, AAP – Scott Johnson’s family have long believed the American was the victim of a gay-hate murder in Sydney more than 26 years ago.

His body was found at the bottom of Manly’s North Head on December 10, 1988, and a third inquest will now hear details of his death.

The 27-year-old’s death was originally deemed suicide but, following a brief hearing in Sydney on Monday, NSW Coroner Michael Barnes agreed to reopen the inquest.

Mr Johnson’s family had requested the reopening, after private investigations pointed to a range of gay-hate attacks in the area at the time.

NSW Police did not oppose the application.

Mr Barnes noted new evidence had come to light since the second inquest, which may lead to a different finding.

‘There are other legitimate considerations such as the right of the family and the public to have the new evidence tested in open court,’ he said.

‘That may allay suspicions and concerns that are held by the family and perhaps some members of the community.’

Mr Johnson’s brother, Steve, spoke to reporters shortly after the decision.

‘The perpetrators are probably still alive and local,’ he said outside court at Glebe.

‘I think this decision lights a fire under the people who committed this crime and thought they got away with it,’ he told Fairfax Media.

It’s believed to be the first time in the state’s history that three inquests had been held into a person’s death.

Detectives in 2013 formed Strike Force Macnamir to review the case after it was featured in ABC TV’s Australian Story.

The NSW homicide squad also announced a $100,000 reward for information about Mr Johnson’s death.

No suggestion of foul play arose during initial investigations and the death was ruled a suicide by a coronial inquest in 1989.

But a second inquest held in 2012 returned an open finding and the case was referred to the State Crime Command’s Unsolved Homicide Team.

Mr Johnson came to Australia to live with his partner and study mathematics.

He died on the day he should have been celebrating the completion of his doctoral work.

State police, who had prepared a 445-page report for the court, welcomed the coroner’s decision.

The inquest is expected to be held next year.


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