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Australia Trip to top-up Opal card ends in arrest for 1988 gay-hate murder

09:21  13 may  2020
09:21  13 may  2020 Source:   smh.com.au

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Brother of 1988 Sydney ' gay hate attack' victim Scott Johnson speaks after arrest made – video. “I do think the plight of young gay men in Sydney, and probably around the world, was a very difficult one and not only were they let down by police, they were let down by the community and probably the

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Video provided by ABC News

Shane White left his home on Tuesday morning planning only to top up his Opal card at the service station.

Instead he was arrested for one of the most high-profile alleged gay-hate killings in Australia's history.

His reaction "wasn't one of surprise," detectives said on Wednesday.

The 49-year-old is in custody after he emerged as the man charged with the murder of Scott Johnson near Manly's North Head in 1988.

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Steve Johnson says it is an emotional day for his family after a man was arrested over the cold-case alleged murder of his brother in Manly.

A man has been arrested over the suspected gay - hate murder of 27-year-old Sydney-based American mathematician Scott Johnson more than three decades However the third inquest in 2017 found Mr Johnson fell from the cliff top due to violence by an unidentified attacker who perceived him to be gay.

Mr Johnson's naked body was found on rocks at the base of a cliff.

His clothes were found folded on the clifftop, at the end of a track leading to an area that was then known to be a "gay beat," where homosexual men would meet for sex.

Scott Johnson Climbing Mt. Monadnock, New Hampshire USA in August 1988. © AAP Image/NSW Police Scott Johnson Climbing Mt. Monadnock, New Hampshire USA in August 1988. Mr White did not appear or apply for bail during his first mention at Parramatta Local Court on Wednesday, however bail was formally refused by Deputy Chief Magistrate Michael Allen.

Until Tuesday Mr White lived alone with his dog Jazz in a small unit in Lane Cove North.

It is the first time he has been examined or named as a suspect in the three-decade cold case, which has been the sole focus of a team of detectives under Strike Force Welsford for the past two years.

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A man has been arrested over the suspected gay - hate murder of 27-year-old Sydney-based American mathematician Scott Johnson more than three decades ago. A million reward for information leading to an arrest in the case was offered in 2018 and Mr Johnson's family in Jump back to top .

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"In December 1988 NSW Police will allege that Scott Johnson was murdered in North Head," NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said on Wednesday.

"That statement alone has been a long time coming for Steve Johnson, all the Johnson family and friends, the local gay community and so many other people across ... Australia and North America."

It comes after three coronial inquests, $2 million in reward offers and an initially bungled police investigation that concluded the 27-year-old US mathematician had died by suicide, a long-running theory which exposed historic police bias.

"In any age of policing, police make mistakes," Commissioner Fuller said. "This doesn't define who we were as an organisation."

After years of campaigning, led by Scott Johnson's brother Steve, the third inquest in 2017 determined he had likely been killed as a result of a gay-hate crime.

Commissioner Fuller said he pushed for the formation of Strike Force Welsford in 2017 because of compelling new evidence. But said he was also motivated by the experience of young gay men in the '80s and '90s, and "how we missed justice for so many victims".

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Multiple investigations by the NSW Homicide Squad had failed to solve the 1988 case, and so a fresh set of eyes was sought under Strike Force Welsford.

Three long-time detectives from the Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad formed a team to work solely on new information, including tips which emerged following the offer of a $1 million reward in 2018.

Among them was Detective Sergeant John Breda, in his first role since returning to the force after he was nearly killed in a stabbing by an alleged sex offender on Australia Day in 2018.

Lead investigator Detective Chief Inspector Peter Yeomans said making an arrest was a "watershed" moment in an "exceptionally complex" investigation.

"When we got the job we didn't have a body, we didn't have forensic evidence," he said, adding that an arrest could not have been made without the community coming forward with information.

There is at least one witness who would be eligible for part of the financial reward previously offered if a conviction is achieved.

Scott Johnson's death and his brother's campaign for justice has also been credited as a major catalyst for Strike Force Parabell, a police taskforce into the deaths of more than 80 gay men in the 1970s, '80s and '90s.

A 2018 report on the investigation found an "acceptance of gay bashings and violence directed towards gay men" among society "without qualification" during that time.

Of the 88 cases examined by Strike Force Parabell, 27 were found to be motivated by gay-hate. It found 23 cases remained unsolved, five of which were believed to be motivated by gay-hate, at or near "beats" around the Sydney area. Scott Johnson was among them.

Mr White is next scheduled to appear via audio-visual link at Central Local Court on July 14.

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