Scott White was ‘street kid’ grappling with own sexuality, court hears

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The court also heard that Johnson’s murder was not White’s first encounter with criminality – nor his last. As a child, he came before the courts for a number of violent offences.

He had a troubled and disadvantaged upbringing – including “homophobic parents who drank and encouraged him to fight for their amusement” – which Justice Wilson said set him on a path “that took him to North Head”.

Scott Johnson’s siblings, Steve and Rebecca, outside the court on Tuesday.Credit:Peter Rae

White told forensic psychiatrist Dr Richard Furst that by the age of 14 he was drinking alcohol and living on the streets, where he was frequently assaulted. He attempted suicide on “a few occasions” around the age of 15, Furst said.

Years later, as an adult with multiple children of his own, White would often brag about how he used to go “poofter bashing”, his former wife Helen told the court on Monday. He used the same phrase when he spoke to the two unnamed witnesses in 2020.

But the court heard he was also gay, something he told the same witnesses was his “biggest secret” because of his family’s homophobia.

In an interview with police in 2019, White admitted getting into fights as a “street kid” in Manly in the late 1980s, but denied targeting people based on their sexuality. He said he knew he was gay from the age of 15, and was anxious, even at the time of the interview, that his brother not find out about it.

Scott Phillip White being interviewed by police in May 2020.

Scott Phillip White being interviewed by police in May 2020.

White’s last run-in with police was in 2008 when he assaulted his wife, leading to their separation. Wilson said he “seems to have lived a blameless life since then”, caring for his elderly and alcoholic mother then living “quietly by himself”.

She said “the offender is no longer the same angry young man who raised his fists to another on the edge of a cliff”.

White’s background – a “prejudicial childhood leading to life on the streets” – along with the deprivation of his early childhood and his cognitive impairment, reduced his moral culpability for the crime, Wilson said.


She noted this was “generously” acknowledged by Johnson’s sister Becca, who said in her victim impact statement on Monday that the community “failed” White.

“I don’t wish Mr White suffering. I do wish that Mr White be met with justice for the 33 years, four months and 22 days and counting since he took my brother’s life,” she told the court.

Speaking outside the court on Tuesday, Becca and Steve Johnson were asked how they felt about the court being unable to find their brother’s death was a hate crime, after relentlessly pursuing justice since his death was originally ruled a suicide.

Becca said she felt their journey had shed light on the tragedy – “that someone could hate themselves and gay people, gay men, so much that killing them is OK”.


Steve – an IT entrepreneur who in 2020 matched the $1 million reward offered by police two years earlier with his own funds – thanked Justice Wilson for the dignity and justice she gave his brother.

“There’s no way to second-guess the sentence that she delivered,” he said. “Twelve years in prison – it could have been life in prison and it wasn’t bringing Scott back.

“What we got was fairness, and dignity for our brother.”

Steve also thanked the killer’s former wife, Helen White, “who courageously came forward, sacrificed her safety to do that, and bravely testified in court yesterday”.

He also had words of gratitude for the killer himself. For finally pleading guilty, and “sparing us, the family, another ordeal”.

White, who was sentenced to a maximum of 12 years and seven months jail, will be eligible for parole on August 11, 2030.

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