Police in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) have reopened the investigation into a gay man’s death and will seek to find out whether it may be linked to the suspicious deaths of three other men that occured around the same time.
American born mathematician Scott Johnson’s body was found below cliffs near Manly Beach in northern Sydney 24 years ago but police at the time ruled the death a suicide despite the area above being a known meeting place for men who have sex with men.
Around the same time on the city’s southern beaches a number of gay men are believed to have been bashed and then thrown off cliffs in what were in many cases often initially ruled suicides.
The case was reopened after evidence was gathered by the Johnson family that identified similarities between the deaths and Scott Johnson’s which persuaded the NSW Coroner’s Court in June to change the verdict on his death to an open one - allowing police to reopen the case.
‘It would appear that these matters weren't treated as seriously as they should have been when it was known there were marauding gangs of young men targeting gay men and committing crimes against them,’ Detective Chief Inspector John Lehmann told The Australian newspaper.
A 2004 coronial investigation looked into a pattern of homophobic bashings and murders on Sydney’ southern shore in the late 80's and early 90's but did not delve into whether similar violence had been occurring north of the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
After reviewing the evidence in June, NSW Deputy State Coroner Carmel Forbes found that suicide was not the only explanation that should have been considered in Scott Johnson’s death.
‘The possibilities that Mr Johnson was the victim of a gay hate crime similar to those that occurred in Bondi or that he fell are also available explanations to the circumstances that surrounded his death,’ she told the court.
Police have reportedly identified more than a dozen men from three gangs who may have been involved in homophobic attacks in Sydney around the same time.