news

Scott Johnson death: Man arrested over 1988 Sydney gay hate killing

The body of Scott Johnson, 27, was discovered naked at the foot of cliffs. Police ruled it a suicide.

2020-05-12

Police in Australia have arrested a man in connection with the suspected gay hate killing of a US student in Sydney.

The body Scott Johnson, 27, was discovered naked at the foot of coastal cliffs in Sydney in 1988.

His death was initially ruled to be a suicide, but following years of campaigning by his family, police reopened the investigation and ruled he had been killed as the result of a homophobic hate crime.

Scott Price, 49, was arrested at his Sydney home on Tuesday (12 May), the BBC reports. He was refused bail and will appear in court on Wednesday (13 May).

In 2018, police admitted that the killings of at least 27 gay in Sydney between 1976 and 2000 were likely homophobic hate crimes, with as many as 25 more needing further investigation.

For three decades between the 1970s and 2000, the parks and coastline surrounding Sydney were the scenes of a huge number of brutal deaths involving gay men, many of whom were found at the foot of cliffs.

Many of the men had their cause of death listed as the result of suicides or accidents, but rumours swirled for years that homophobic gangs roamed the city's known gay meeting areas looking for victims to attack.

In 2015, New South Wales police reopened investigations into as many 88 deaths as part of 'Operation Parrabell', to ascertain whether the deceased were in fact the victims of anti-gay hate crimes.

Scott Johnson was a mathematician who had moved to Sydney in the late '80s to be with his partner. He was close to completing his PhD when his naked body was found at the bottom of a 60-metre cliff at North Head, Manly, on 10 December 1988.

After three inquests, it was ruled in 2017 that he had been the victim of an anti-gay attack. A $1m reward for information leading to an arrest in the case was offered in 2018.

Scott Johnson was one of many gay men who died in violent and mysteriously circumstances in remote areas around Sydney in the '80s and '90s

NSW police commissioner, Mick Fuller, said it was a "career highlight" to inform Scott Johnson's brother Steve of today's arrest.

The force previously apologised to the Johnson family for not investigating the case properly in the 1980s.

In a statement, Steve Johnson said his brother Scott symbolised all those who lost their lives due to homophobic violence in Sydney and were failed by the authorities.

Scott Johnson's family had campaigned for three decades to have his death properly investigated by police

“It’s emotional for me, emotional for my family, my two sisters and brother who loved Scott dearly, my wife and three kids who never got to know their uncle,” Steve said.

“[They didn’t have the chance to] admire him because of his brilliance, but also because he courageously lived his life as he wanted to.

“I hope the friends and families of the other dozens of gay men who lost their lives find solace in what’s happened today and hope it opens the door to resolve some of the other mysterious deaths of men who have not yet received justice.”