Grandad killed in 'cowardly' attack: gay hate inquiry

·3-min read
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A grandfather fatally bashed in a "cowardly attack" at a Newcastle gay beat in 1980 was probably viewed as an easy target for robbery, a NSW gay hate crimes inquiry has been told.

The Special Commission of Inquiry on Friday examined the death of Richard Slater, 69, who died three days after being beaten and robbed inside a Newcastle toilet block, in December 1980.

The inquiry was told the ex-BHP crane driver was on a shopping trip in town when he was set upon in the block, a "renowned" homosexual meeting place.

It was told the "much-loved" man, whose family assumed to be straight and who had a prostate condition that led to frequent urination, suffered a traumatic brain injury in the assault.

A local gay man, now dead, seen in the vicinity was likely responsible and targeted Mr Slater - potentially incorrectly - as a "vulnerable" beat user.

The suspected attacker, 20 years old at the time, had a substantial criminal record, including offences of violence.

"It's open to infer that he entered the toilet with the intention of robbery including the potential use of violence," counsel assisting William de Mars said.

"(Mr Slater) was considered to be an easy target of robbery.

"There is clear evidence that, correctly or not, he acted on the understanding that Mr Slater was using the toilet as a beat."

The inquiry was told the suspect was charged over the assault, but that prosecutors dropped the case due to "deficiencies" before it went to trial.

"There is no doubt that Mr Slater died as a result of a cowardly attack upon him in circumstances which I will come and deal with more fully in my report," Commissioner John Sackar said.

Also on Friday, the inquiry reviewed the case of Paul Rath, whose death was ruled accidental after his body was found at the bottom of cliffs in Sydney's northern beaches in June 1977.

The 27-year-old was found near Shelly Beach, not far from where the body of Mark Stewart - whose death has also been looked at by the inquiry - was found a year earlier, and nearby where US man Scott Johnson was murdered in 1988.

Counsel assisting labelled a police report made a day after the death as "extraordinary" for claiming there were no suspicious circumstances, when there existed the "concerning combination" of Mr Rath's trousers being partially down and the location being a gay beat.

Mr de Mars also criticised the police investigation, pointing to minimal clifftop searching, no canvassing of locals and no inquiries at a nearby church to see if Mr Rath attended as usual.

Reasons for the "limited" probe, the barrister said, were that officers of the era were unlikely to devote efforts to establishing if such a death "may have been a gay hate homicide".

Ultimately, Mr de Mars said the "uncertain state of the evidence" meant "it is not possible to determine whether Mr Rath's death was a homicide, and therefore it is not possible to determine whether it was the result of a LGBTIQ hate crime".

The inquiry's seventh block of hearings commences on Tuesday.

Commissioner Sackar is due to deliver a final report to NSW Governor Margaret Beazley in August.

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