'Hot potato' sparked covert gay-hate police operation
A covert police operation investigating the deaths of three gay men thrown off Sydney cliffs in the 1980s was established in anticipation of a "political and media-driven hot potato", an inquiry hearing has been told.
Current and former senior police are giving evidence to a special inquiry about several strike forces including Parrabell, Neiwand and Macnamir that examined nearly 90 LGBTQI members found dead between 1970 and 2010.
A watershed 2018 report by Parrabell examined 88 deaths and found 23 remained unsolved.
The special inquiry's hearing on Wednesday got off to a rocky start, after two days of counsel assisting the inquiry Peter Gray SC grilling former homicide squad commander Michael Willing over Neiwand.
It was delayed because police said the contents of redacted documents being shown to the witness, including those relating to a covert operation, should not be revealed to the public.
Detective Sergeant Steve Morgan, an investigation supervisor who joined Neiwand in early 2016, was scheduled to take the stand in the morning but the hearing was delayed until the afternoon.
Strike Force Neiwand, a covert operation overseen by Mr Willing in October 2015, was designed to look back at three deaths in the Bondi area of Sydney between 1985 and 1990, when gay men were targeted, assaulted and forced off the cliffs by gangs of youths according to a coroner.
In separate incidents Ross Warren, John Russell and French national Giles Mattaini were found dead near a popular gay beat at Marks Park in Bondi.
Mr Gray pointed to a damning email that Det Sgt Morgan had written in 2016 to colleagues in which he explains the rationale behind the strike force.
"Apparently it is going to be a political and media-driven hot potato later this year and the Boss (Mr Willing) wants to be able to say that his squad are further investigating the matter ... Why would I be surprised."
Det Sgt Morgan explained that SBS was preparing two programs in late 2016 on the gay-hate murders which the police were expecting to be critical.
"I think it was a case of being proactive and wanting to get on the front foot for what were anticipated to be criticisms within those programs," he told the inquiry.
"That's the impression I had."
Neiwand followed leads in ongoing investigations in another strike force codenamed Macnamir.
Macnamir was established in February 2013 to reopen the cold case of US mathematician Scott Johnson, found dead at the bottom of cliffs at Manly in northern Sydney in 1988.
His death was initially ruled a suicide before the case was reopened in 2012 after pressure from his family.
A coroner in 2017 determined the matter involved human intervention.
Earlier this week, Mr Gray laid out arguments how police deemed the deaths at Bondi and Manly were not homicidal but leant more on theories that they were suicides.
The inquiry continues.