BOOK REVIEW: Getting Away With Murder by Duncan McNab

Posted on April 22, 2017


Getting Away With Murder
Duncan McNab


With his background in the police, as a private investigator and investigative journalist, Duncan McNab has a set of skills and experience which enable him to dig deep into narratives such as this. And he does it well.

It is easy for many of us to forget that only a few years ago, homosexual relationships between men were still illegal. Consequently, many gay men resorted to underground, furtive relationships and experiences which put them on the wrong side of the law and into dangerous places.

McNab writes of a period starting in Sydney in the late 1970s. This was a time when a lot of police forces were perhaps top-heavy with testosterone-fuelled coppers, better suited to the old-style cops-and-robbers routine but not to an increasingly liberalised society. The wave of violence against gay men saw murders written off as suicide or misadventure. We will never know how many serious assaults went unreported. And it is both saddening and sickening to see just how complicit too many NSW police were in these matters.

While this account is only of events in Sydney, I have no doubt that such violence would have been perpetuated elsewhere as well.

While reading this well-constructed and insightful narrative, two things struck me.

First, our police forces do not just reflect the law of the time but also society’s values. As someone who went through secondary school in the 1970s, I come from that era where it was a routine insult to call someone a poofter. This helped develop bigotry which in my case extended well into my twenties until I woke up to myself. I now have friends who are gay, lesbian and trans, but the younger me would have run a mile to avoid any such entanglements, no doubt with a few choice words of abuse.

With those disrespectful and worse social values around, it is not surprising to see them reflected in our law enforcement services. Especially in the old-school element. Yet that simply adds fuel to the pyre of abuse and worse.

The other thing that struck me was the self-perpetuating cycle of events. We have seen this recently in the USA. Presidential candidate Trump received support from the likes of the Klu Klux Klan but he did not do a great deal to either discourage such elements or entirely separate himself from them. As President, Trump still has not done much seriously in the way of disassociating himself. As a result, things such as waves of anti-Semitic behaviour have noticeably increased. I believe this is because such elements now feel safer in not just expressing the violent bigotry but empowered to act on it. And once that starts, it can to a degree become normalised among those elements.

During the period covered by McNab’s book, violence against gay men was on the increase. There were parts of the NSW police force who not only weren’t terribly worried by this but seem to have even been involved themselves. In that sort of environment, the gangs and individuals who get their jollies by gutless mass assaults of individuals, found a scenario that only further empowered them. When serious assaults do not get reported, why should they stop? When deaths are not seriously investigated, or treated as they murders they were, the scum just feel so much safer. And so the cycle continues and even escalates.

McNab’s book does not pull too many punches when criticising aspects of the police actions. On getting caught out, the NSW Police, like all too many big institutions, preferred to try to bury the matter rather than directly address it. Fortunately, the force as an institution does not represent the attitudes of every individual copper and there were those to tried to change things for the better as also shown by McNab.

The worst of that period is behind us. Some of the thugs have done prison time for their crimes. Yet we will never know just how many lives were damaged or lost by the actions of that time. And anyone who thinks that indiscriminate violence against gay or trans individuals is just something of the past, is simply kidding themselves. McNab’s book reminds me that it up to us as a society to not allow this to go unquestioned or become as normalised as it was back in the 70s and 80s.

This was an excellent account of a sad and sickening period, indirectly challenging us to consider the future.

Highly Recommended.




Posted in: Review