Family ‘demonized’ by police, Scott Phillip White jailed for 1988 murder

The Johnson case was investigated as part of NSW’s groundbreaking inquiry into LGBTIQ hate crimes, the report of which is due by August 30.

In a scathing statement released publicly on Thursday, coinciding with White’s sentencing, the attorney assisting the inquiry led by Peter Gray, SC, pointed out serious flaws in the NSW Police investigation into Johnson’s death .

The investigation found that the unsolved homicide team reviewed the Johnson case in 2012 and concluded that there was “no resolvability.”

Outside the court, Steve Johnson spoke of being told “no crime had been committed” and attempts by the police to “shut the door”.

“The years went by, they closed the case,” he said.

The attorney assisting the investigation said, “No investigative or other steps appear to have been taken in 2012 to determine whether forensic evidence existed.” [was available].”

The death of US mathematician Scott Johnson was initially declared a suicide.

The death of US mathematician Scott Johnson was initially declared a suicide.

“It is a circular logic in which a ‘cold case’ is ruled unsolvable (and therefore ruled out further investigation) based on gaps in the evidence without further attempts being made to ‘solve’ it by filling in those gaps ‘.” Gaps,” the filing reads.

The investigation found evidence that police had developed a media strategy surrounding the possibility of a third investigation into Johnson’s death, which included, but excluded, early briefing of some journalists The Sydney Morning Herald.

“We do not intend to approach SMH because their reporter, Rick Feneley, is biased in his reporting and unwilling to consider information provided to him by police,” the internal police email said -Media unit dated April 7, 2015.

In their submissions, the lawyers referred to a “strong series of articles” in The Sydney Morning Herald And The Sun Herald between March and August 2013, including Feneley’s groundbreaking Good weekend Reporting in July 2013 headlined “Up to 80 Men Murdered, 30 Cases Unsolved.”


Supreme Court Justice John Sackar is leading the hate crimes inquiry and is not required to accept the submissions of the attorney assisting his finding, but they should be persuasive.

The supporting attorney said evidence prior to the inquest supported the finding that in 2015 senior police officers, including Mick Willing, then homicide chief and later deputy police commissioner, wanted to “defeat” the Johnson family “by agreeing to the finding of a resisted murder and prevented it”. at a third examination.

An April 24, 2015 document filed with the inquest said Willing said the Johnson family was “obsessed” and that he “had a conversation with Steve in which he was unpredictable.”

Willing had told the inquest that the police and the Johnson family had a “hostile” relationship, but he didn’t want to defeat them. Willing has since left the force.

Johnson’s death was initially ruled a suicide after an inquest in 1989. A second inquest in 2012 had the open result that his death could have been a suicide, an accident or a homicide.

Coroner Michael Barnes said in November 2017 he was convinced Johnson committed a foul.

Steve Johnson said White “found an amazing ally” in the suicide myth and that the police “facilitated” the killer’s escape.

The supporting attorney said it was “clearly correct” that a reinvestigation into Johnson’s death in 2013 would not have been launched without intense lobbying from members of the Johnson family.

“Late 2017 [NSW Police Force] They still submitted to the coroner that Scott Johnson’s death was likely a suicide and that the finding of homicide was “not open,” the statement said.

After the third inquest, a team of specialists led by Strike Force Welsford began investigating the death.

Court documents suggest the area (marked in red) was where Scott Johnson was struck and fell.

Court documents suggest the area (marked in red) was where Scott Johnson was struck and fell.Credit:

Steve Johnson said he was introduced by then-NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller on a conference call to Detective Chief Inspector Peter Yeomans, the officer in charge of the investigation.

“I asked Peter, ‘How do you think my brother died?'” Johnson said Thursday.

“I had never heard a working police officer say he died by murder. And Peter said, “Your brother died by murder.”


“From that moment on, Strike Force Welsford worked diligently and with love to solve my brother’s case.”

Asked for his opinion, Yeomans said: “Steve fought for almost 35 years. God to have a brother like that.”

The information reward was increased to $1 million in December 2018, and Steve Johnson said he would double the reward.

White was arrested and charged in May 2020 and has been in custody since then.

He pleaded guilty to Johnson’s murder early last year and was convicted in May 2022, although he immediately tried to withdraw his confession. That verdict and conviction were overturned on appeal, and in February he pleaded guilty to Johnson’s manslaughter.

The judge said White, who was 18 at the time of the murder, had cognitive impairment and a “completely dysfunctional” life, including homelessness, alcohol abuse and a propensity for violence.

“The perpetrator was clearly an injured, albeit physically strong, young man. However, he wasn’t as broken as he is now,” said Beech-Jones. He believed that White was unlikely to re-offend after his release and that he had good prospects for rehabilitation.

The judge did not accept that it was impossible for White to make an anonymous call about the incident after he “ran away” from North Head.

“Dr. Johnson’s death marked the beginning of a decade-long nightmare of grief and unanswered questions for his family,” said Beech-Jones.

“The perpetrator has Dr. let Johnson die.”

He said it was not known how long Johnson had been suffering, but “it is certain that he would have been terrified for some time.”

The Johnson family recently revisited the North Head cliff, which Steve Johnson described as a “dark and beautiful place” to think of his brother.

“I can see myself going to the cliff many more times in my life,” he said.

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Justin Scaccy

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