NSW launches judicial commission to probe dozens of historical ‘gay hate’ murders

NSW police search North Head  in 2020 following an arrest in the 1998 cold case alleged murder of gay man Scott Johnson.

NSW police search North Head in 2020 following an arrest in the 1998 cold case alleged murder of gay man Scott Johnson. Photo: AAP

A Supreme Court judge has been appointed to head a special inquiry into a series of brutal gay and transgender hate crimes committed in Sydney over 50 years.

The commission of inquiry into LGBTIQ hate crimes, headed by Justice John Sackar, will investigate the suspected hate crimes against 88 men between 1970 and 2010.

Some 23 of the cases remain unsolved.

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

“This Inquiry … will work to close a dark chapter of our state’s history that has left an indelible mark.”

The inquiry will explore the “manner and cause of death in all unsolved suspected hate crime deaths” in NSW between 1970 and 2010.

The commission of inquiry was the key recommendation of a bipartisan upper house committee report tabled in May 2021.

The social issues committee inquiry, which began in 2018, heard months of testimony from victims, their families and legal representatives.

NSW Police haven’t apologised

The parliamentary committee found NSW Police had historically failed in its responsibility to investigate cases properly.

The committee stopped short of recommending NSW Police issue a public apology, but it noted acknowledgement by those who failed to protect and deliver justice for LGBTQI people was necessary for healing.

NSW’s leading LGBTQ health organisation, ACON, said the inquiry would be critical to ensure it could never happen again.

“This epidemic of violence, along with the slow and inadequate responses to many of these crimes, has left a painful legacy for the loved ones of victims, survivors, their families, and the broader community,” ACON chief executive Nicolas Parkhill said.

“It will need to uncover where there have been systematic failures and wrongdoing, particularly in law enforcement systems and justice agencies.”

Justice Sackar will have the power to hold hearings, summon witnesses and inspect documents.

The inquiry will examine unsolved cases, including that of Wollongong television newsreader Ross Warren and barman John Russell.

TV newsreader Ross Warren’s 1989 death will be just one of the cases investigated.

Mr Warren, 25, disappeared after a night out drinking with friends in July 1989. His body was never found, but his keys were found at the bottom of cliffs at Tamarama beach in Sydney’s east.

Four months later, Mr Russell’s body was found in the same spot after a night out with friends.

The final report will be delivered in June 2023.


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