Gay hate behind 27 Sydney murders: police

Perry Duffin
Scott Johnson's 1988 murder is one of 27 suspected homophobic attacks being reviewed by NSW Police

A review of 88 suspicious deaths has revealed 27 men were likely murdered simply for being gay during a violent and dark period of Sydney's history.

The unsolved homicide unit is now examining 23 cases with fears homophobic killers may still walk the streets.

From the 1970s gay men were found slain in parks, homes or washed onto sharp rocks below Sydney's secluded gay beats.

The city's budding LGBTIQ community was being targeted while much of the community looked away.

The violence reached a bloody crescendo in the late 1980s and early 1990s fuelled by a "moral panic" triggered by the HIV epidemic.

Up to 20 assaults took place each day but unsympathetic elements of the police and judiciary meant most attacks were never reported or investigated.

NSW Police on Wednesday released findings from a three-year review of 88 high-profile cases from 1976 to 2000.

Strike Force Parrabell's goal was to "do all that is possible" to heal the rift that grew between police and the LGBTIQ community in those decades.

A team of police investigators and independent academics from Flinders University looked at whether attackers had shown evidence of gay-hate motivation.

They reached different conclusions in some cases but agreed eight deaths were the result of gay hate.

All eight have been solved - the killers were charged and convicted.

A further 19 deaths are suspected gay hate crimes and five of those remain unsolved.

Among them was 25-year-old newsreader Ross Warren whose keys were found at the base of a cliff at a Tamarama gay beat in 1989.

His body was never found but homophobic youths were known to be launching attacks on gay men in the area to assert masculinity or as gang initiation.

The deputy state coroner, in 2005, ruled Mr Warren was a homicide victim.

Scott Johnson, who was found dead on the rocks below North Head's gay beat in 1988, is also a suspected victim.

His death, like many others, was ruled a suicide by an early inquest.

But Parrabell, like the latest coronial ruling in 2017, saw enough evidence to rule homophobic attackers may have thrown or chased him off the cliff.

Only 34 cases had no evidence of bias while the remaining 25 had insufficient evidence for classification - but could not be ruled out.

The churches, state and medical world classified homosexuality as a sin, crime and disease respectively during much of this period.

NSW Police, on Wednesday, acknowledged it had been no better - but wanted to move forward.

It's important NSW Police acknowledge its part in history," Assistant Commissioner Tony Crandell told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday.

"If you fail to have a thorough investigation in even one death it affects them all."

Parrabell made a series of recommendations but stopped short of adopting all those proposed by LGBTIQ group ACON - including an apology from police.

AAP understands police leadership will consider an apology.