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Crime

Coroner lambasts police after it took 30 years to convince them a murdered gay man was victim of a hate crime

Patrick Kelleher September 1, 2020
Gay man Scott Johnson

Scott Johnson. (Justice For Scott Facebook page)

The gay hate murder of Scott Johnson could have been solved sooner if police in Australia had responded correctly at the time, a coroner has said.

Johnson’s naked body was found dead at the base of a cliff in New South Wales, Australia, in 1988.

Sadly, like many other gay hate killings of the time, police ruled his death a suicide. Scott Price was finally charged with his murder in May, following a 32-year campaign by his family.

Now, former New South Wales deputy coroner Jacqueline Milledge has said that Johnson’s killer could have been found sooner if the police had not wrongly ruled his death a suicide.

Police ‘may have seen a pattern’ if they had adequately investigated the murder of Scott Johnson.

“If Scott Johnson’s death had been regarded as it should have been, police may have made some connection, they may have seen a pattern,” Milledge said, according to ABC News

“It may have led to a very earlier resolve of the Scott Johnson matter than now, some 30 years later.”

Milledge went on to hold an inquest into the deaths of three gay men near Bondi in 2005, and said she was never told about their similarities with Johnson’s tragic death.

“And when I was looking at the Scott Johnson matter, I couldn’t help but feel he had met his fate the same way.”

If Scott Johnson’s death had been regarded as it should have been, police may have made some connection, they may have seen a pattern.

Milledge was a part of what became known as “Team Scott”, a 12-person strong group of people across the United States and Australia who banded together to kickstart  campaign to find Johnson’s killer.

The group was set up by Scott’s brother Steve, who never believed that Scott had died by suicide.

Speaking about the incredible moment police apprehended Johnson’s suspected killer Scott Price in May, Steve Johnson said there was “no way to describe what that felt like”.

“Finally, I’m going to have some answers,” Steve said.

Price is due in court on 7 September. He has not yet entered a plea in the ongoing case.

Police finally began to hunt for Johnson’s killer years after he was found dead.

Johnson was just 27-years-old when he was killed in New South Wales, Australia.

He was a talented maths student, and had moved from the US to Sydney to be with his partner Michael Noone in 1986, after they met as students at the University of Cambridge in the UK.

His death was initially ruled a suicide, but after the tireless campaigning of his family, a 2018 coroner’s inquest ruled that he had likely died as a result of a gay hate crime.

In 2019, police offered a a $1 million reward to anyone who came forward with information that led to a prosecution, and this year Johnson’s brother Steve matched the reward, bringing the total offer to $2 million.

Scott Price was arrested at his home in Sydney on Tuesday, 12 May, following a years-long campaign to bring Johnson’s killer to justice.

Police have alleged that Price, then aged 18, met Johnson in a hotel before heading to the Bluefish Point clifftops, an area where gay men met for sex.

It is believed that Johnson removed his clothes when they arrived. Price then allegedly panicked and punched Johnson, at which point he fell to his death.

Police found his clothes neatly folded around 10 metres from the edge of the cliff.

More: Australia, Hate crime, murder, Scott Johnson, Scott Price, Steve Johnson

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