Australian police admit killings of 27 gay men were likely homophobic hate crimes

(Facebook/justice for scott johnson)

One of Australia’s largest police forces has admitted that the unsolved deaths of tens of gay men were likely homophobic hate crimes.

Police had previously discovered 88 cases where gay men had died under suspicious circumstances between 1970 and 1990 in Sydney and the surrounding area.

New South Wales police opened an investigation into these deaths in 2015, launching Strike Force Parabell to internally investigate the cases.

New South Wales police officers (Mark Evans/Getty Images)

Strike Force Parrabell concluded in a report this week that 27 of them were indeed homophobic hate crimes, despite originally being classified as suicides or tragic accidents.

On Wednesday, the New South Wales police admitted that they had played a role in “marginalising” the LGBT community at the time.

A statement issued on behalf of the police said: “[New South Wales Police] acknowledges without qualification both its and society’s acceptance of gay bashings and shocking violence directed at gay men and the LGBT community between 1976 and 2000.”

It added: “There were certainly people murdered because of their sexuality during this time.”

30 of the deaths remain unsolved (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Assistant Commissioner Tony Crandell went on to say that while it was difficult to determine anti-gay sentiment from police officers from archived case files, he said that the police and society had given people a “licence” to attack gay people.

The New South Wales police investigation found that 34 of the deaths were likely not hate crimes, and as many as 30 currently remain unsolved.

As well as the investigation conducted by New South Wales police, LGBT health and advocacy charity ACON previously issued their own analysis of the 88 deaths.

The deaths rocked the Sydney LGBT community (Adam Berry/Getty Images)

In ACON’s report, the charity also concluded that many of the deaths can be linked to both homophobia and inadequate investigations by police at the time.

The report published in May follows an investigation prompted by an initial inquest into the death of Scott Johnson, a 27-year-old mathematician who was found dead at the bottom of a 200-foot cliff in 1988.

The ACON report individually examined the 88 suspected anti-gay killings and found that there were multiple underlying themes in many of the attacks – determining that homophobia was a clear motivating factor in at least 50% of the cases.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 08: Protestors gather at Sydney Police Centre on Goulburn St during a rally against alleged police brutality at the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade on March 8, 2013 in Sydney, Australia. Thousands of demonstrators gathered today to demand an external investigation after a video was released showing a handcuffed parade goer get thrown to the ground by a police officer. (Photo by Don Arnold/Getty Images)

Pride-goers protest New South Wales police after an incident in 2013 (Don Arnold/Getty Images)

The report aimed to highlight both the deaths as a whole as well as the issues that have remained in the 40 years since these killings began.

The report found evidence of serial killings by groups of young men at the time, as well as highlighting the influence of the AIDS crisis and suggested a link between the large stigma surrounding HIV in the 1980’s and the attacks.

On Wednesday, ACON welcomed the findings and recommendations in the Strike Force Parrabell report, but questioned whether the recommendations went far enough.

ACON is also seeking a formal apology from the New South Wales police to the wider LGBT community for the “inadequate” responses to the violence over the last 48 years.