Picture: Scott Johnson (NSW Police)
A third inquest has been ordered into the death of Scott Johnson on Sydney’s northern beaches in 1988.
At the time, the 27-year-old’s death was deemed by police to be a suicide, a judgement accepted out of hand by the coroner.
But Johnson’s family has always believed he was murdered, the victim of a gay-hate crime, and lobbied for years for the case to be reopened.
That led to a second inquest in 2012, which returned an open finding, and the case was referred back to police for re-investigation with a $100,000 reward offered for information.
The family’s lawyer, John Agius SC, told the NSW Coroner’s Court this week a private investigation had identified 50 people of interest and five gangs who bashed gay men in the same general geographical area.
Outside court, Mr Johnson’s brother, Steve, said the family was grateful a new inquest would be held.
“I came into this same building 26 years ago, in 1989, when the police had rushed to judgement, as they’ve done in so many other deaths of gay men in Sydney in that time,” he said.
“(The police) decided Scott had committed suicide with no evidence, without talking to the family and with no investigation whatsoever.”
The Homicide Squad conducted a new investigation and wrote to the coroner in March 2014 to request the case be looked at again.
Detective Chief Inspector Pamela Young, who led the latest investigation, said NSW Police was pleased with the court’s decision.
“I believe there are some new pieces of information and potentially some evidence that the coroner could be interested in,” she said.
“But nonetheless, none of it directly relates to Scott being murdered.
“We very much look forward to the public of New South Wales getting to scrutinise the facts of the matter.”
In his published reasons for his decision, coroner Michael Barnes said new witnesses had been located and interviewed since the 2012 finding was made.
“Some purport to have evidence that could well lead to a different finding were it accepted,” he said. “Further there are other legitimate considerations such as the right of the family and the public to have the new evidence tested in open court.
“That may allay suspicions and concerns that are held by the family and perhaps some members of the community.
“It may lead to a different finding as to how Mr Johnson died.”