What Happened To Scott Johnson?

A third inquest has been granted into the 1988 death, but tensions between police and the family are running high.

Tensions between police and the family of Scott Johnson, a US citizen who died near Blue Fish Point in Manly in 1988, are at boiling point after the NSW Coroner granted a third inquest into the death on Monday.

Tensions between police and the family of Scott Johnson, a US citizen who died near Blue Fish Point in Manly in 1988, are at boiling point after the NSW Coroner granted a third inquest into the death on Monday.

The body of 27-year-old Scott Johnson was found at the base of Manly’s North Head on December 10, 1988.

Nsw Police / PR IMAGE

Speaking to Lateline on Monday evening, Detective Chief Inspector Pamela Young, who from 2013 headed a two-year investigation into the death, suggested then-NSW Police Minister Mike Gallacher had been unduly influenced by Scott Johnson’s brother, Steve, to give the case an unusual amount of attention.

Since then, counsel for the Johnson family, John Agius SC, has written to the NSW Police Force requesting Young be removed from the investigation into Johnson’s death.

Scott Johnson was a PhD student who had moved to Australia to live with his partner Michael Noone. His body was found at the bottom of a cliff at North Head near Manly, known as a gay beat at the time. His clothes were placed “in a neat bundle” at the top of the cliff.

On Monday, NSW Coroner Michael Barnes ordered an extremely rare third inquest into Johnson’s death.

On Monday, NSW Coroner Michael Barnes ordered an extremely rare third inquest into Johnson’s death.

Scott Johnson’s brother Steve (3rd from left) arrives at Glebe Coroner’s Court on Monday.

Lane Sainty / BuzzFeed News

The first inquest, held in 1989, ruled the death a suicide. At a second inquest in 2012, Deputy State Coroner Carmel Forbes threw out the suicide verdict and recorded an open finding.

In February 2013, the investigation headed by Young began. It provided no new evidence “directly related to Scott being murdered”, Young said outside court on Monday.

However, Johnson’s family remain convinced he was killed in a homophobic attack. Counsel for the family, John Agius SC, told the Glebe Coroner’s Court on Monday that a new inquest could only bring the finding of death by unlawful homicide.

Agius said a private investigation had found 50 persons of interest and identified five gangs who were known to violently attack gay men in same area that Johnson died.

There is “not a skerrick of evidence” that Johnson might have comitted suicide, said Agius, adding there is “no reason to suspect [Johnson], with all of his senses, could have met an accidental death.”


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