Coroner orders third inquest into death of Scott Johnson
The NSW’s Coroner’s Court has ruled a third inquest will be opened into the death of Scott Johnson, whose naked body was found at the base of a cliff at Manly in 1988, near a spot known to be frequented as a gay beat.
Johnson’s death was originally investigated by NSW Police as a suicide and the first inquest found similarly that Johnson took his own life.
Johnson’s family found the initial verdict hard to take. The family’s lawyer John Agius SC told the Coroner’s Court no-one from Johnson’s immediate family had been interviewed during the first investigation into his death. The close familial bonds were not taken into account; nor was the court apprised of information such as Scott’s plan to return home for the birth of his nephew or his recent acceptance into a prestigious PHD course.
Following the initial finding of suicide, the Johnson family undertook their own investigations into Scott’s death. They soon uncovered a spate of gay hate crimes in Sydney during the same time frame that Scott was found dead. Spurred on by this evidence, the family called for a second inquest into Scott’s death.
A second inquest was finally granted in 2012 and delivered an open verdict and Johnson’s case was turned over to the Cold Case squad for further investigation.
Speaking in court today the family's lawyer, John Agius SC, today told the coroner that the family’s private investigation had identified 50 people of interest. He also spoke of five gangs who were at large during the time of Scott’s death and were known for the bashings OF gay men. Agius alluded Scott's death was likely at the hands of one of these gangs.
NSW Police have supported reopening the case. In March 2014, the Homicide Squad wrote to the Coroner seeking further examination of the case in light of investigations conducted under Strike Force Macnamir. A 445-page statement relating to Strike Force Macnamir was submitted to the Coroner ahead of the directions hearing and police say they welcome the information being scrutinised in the upcoming inquest.
After reviewing the submissions in the directions hearing, NSW Coroner Michael Barnes ruled he would open a third inquest into the death of the 27-year-old maths prodigy.
Speaking outside the court Scott’s brother Stephen said the family were deeply appreciative of Coroner Barnes' decision to open an investigation though the amount of time it had taken for his brother's death to be given justice left him dismayed.
“We are a little disappointed with the time it has taken for the wheels of justice to turn. It will take another six months before we can consider the date of the inquest which is more than two years since the investigation was completed and more than 27 years since my brother died,” Stephen told GNN.
“I came into this same building 26 years ago, when the police had rushed to judgement as they did in the deaths of so many other gay men in Sydney at that time and [they] decided Scott had committed suicide - with no evidence, without talking to the family and with no investigation.
“The coroner at that time simply accepted the police judgement. The second inquest in 2012 considered the family’s investigative work and no police investigative work had been done at that time.
"So we really see this as the first inquest and we are happy the coroner has decided to hold it."
Stephen said the family had great hopes the new inquest would return a different finding and that the perpetrators of Scott’s death would be found and borught to account.
“We have great hope that Scott’s case can be solved. These perpetrators are most likely still alive and this will light a fire under the people who committed these crimes and think they’ve gotten away with it,” he said.
He urged anyone with information to come forward.
“I would call for anyone that knows how these beats work to come forward. The gangs that roamed the northern beaches and Sydney operated repeatedly and regularly and they liked to brag about what they did.”