NSW Police Commissioner Apologises To Families Of LGBTQ Hate Crimes

NSW Police Commissioner Apologises To Families Of LGBTQ Hate Crimes
Image: NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb. Dan Himbrechts, AAP

NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb on Sunday issued an apology to families of victims of anti-gay and anti-trans hate crimes in the state, months after a damning report highlighted the police’s failure to properly investigate those crimes.

“To the victims and families that NSW Police failed by not adequately and fairly investigating those deaths between 1970 and 2010, I am sorry. I apologise for the gaps in those investigative processes where records and exhibits were lost or not examined with enough rigour,” Webb said.

A special commission headed by Supreme Court Justice John Sackar looked into suspected gay and trans hate deaths, some of which had remained unsolved for over 40 years. The commission looked at around 34 suspected gay and trans hate deaths and recommended that the NSW Police commissioner order a fresh inquiry into four suspected gay hate deaths.

Community Needs Meaningful Action

ACON President Justin Koonin (right). Image: Supplied

In its report, released in December 2023, the commission said NSW Police and in particular its Unsolved Homicide Team had “much to reflect on with respect to their attitudes to hate crimes against the LGBTIQ community”.  and their capacity to solve cold cases more generally.”

The commission made around 19 recommendations including asking the police to continuously monitor DNA evidence for fresh leads in unsolved cases, review the practices, procedures and training for its unsolved homicide team and LGBTQI bias training for police officers.

Commissioner Webb issued the apology on Sunday, a day after she attended ‘Sunrise Service of Reflection’ – an event to commemorate the victims and survivors of homophobic and transphobic violence at the Rise Memorial at Marks Park in Tamarama.

Directly addressing Webb, ACON President Justin Koonin pointed to the “systemic failures within the NSW police system” that had “prevented justice for decades.”

“We would also welcome an apology for the conduct of police from 1970 up to the present day… but that apology must be accompanied by meaningful action,” Koonin said.

‘Mistakes Of The Past Will Not Define Our Future’

Some of the victims of gay hate crimes in Sydney between 1970 and 2010. (Clockwise from left) Gilles Mattaini, John Russell, Ross Warren, Scott Johnson, Raymond Keam and Cyril Olsen.

In her apology, Web said she recognised that “the investigation failings highlighted by the Special Commission of Inquiry (SCOI) report have resulted in enduring hurt for many. They do not represent the standards the community expects of us, and we expect of ourselves.”

I realise that this has meant missed opportunities to identify possible offenders as new leads emerged or as new forensic advances became available.

Webb acknowledged “the increased suffering experienced by victims and their families where the crimes were motivated by bias against members of the LGBTIQ community.”

“I assure the LGBTIQ community that under my leadership, NSW Police will use these lessons to continue to improve the way it serves all members of the community with respect, fairness, and inclusivity,” said Webb, adding, “The mistakes of the past will not define our future.”

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