Metropolitan Police mistakes “probably” contributed to the deaths of victims of serial killer Stephen Port, an inquest jury has found – as the partner of one victim called for Cressida Dick to resign.
Officers missed repeated opportunities to catch Port who is serving a whole-life sentence for the murders of four young men in Barking, east London.
Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth, and Jack Taylor were all plied with fatal doses of the “date rape” drug GHB by Port, dubbed the “Grindr killer” for the way he scouted his victims on the gay dating app.
Police initially failed to link the deaths between June 2014 and September 2015 despite their striking similarities, with the bodies of three victims found at the same graveyard and Mr Walgate left outside Port’s block of flats in Barking.
An inquest jury found that police failings in the investigation into the death of Mr Walgate, Port’s first victim, “probably” contributed to the fatalities of Mr Kovari and Mr Whitworth.
Errors in the police investigations into the three deaths also “probably” contributed to the fatality of Port’s final victim, Mr Taylor, the panel concluded.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct said it is now considering reopening the investigation into the Met Police’s handling of the deaths of Port’s victims.
The inquests heard that officers failed to follow leads, murder detectives turned down requests from borough officers to take over the investigations, and concerns from the victims’ families were ignored.
Police had seized Port’s laptop after the death of the first victim but failed to submit it for forensic analysis for 10 months, and then missed repeated searches for drug rape videos contained on the device.
Mr Whitworth’s partner, Ricky Waumsley, called for Met Police Commissioner Ms Dick to resign “with immediate effect” following the jury’s findings.
A statement released by the victims’ families said they believed the officers’ actions were “in part, driven by homophobia”.
“Had four, white, heterosexual girls been found dead in the same manner as Anthony, Gabriel, Daniel and Jack, then the police’s actions, and the likely outcomes, would have been different,” they said.
However coroner Sarah Munro QC told jurors they could not find that “prejudice or homophobia or discrimination on the part of the police made any contribution to the deaths”.
Family outrage over ‘abominable’ investigation
Daniel Whitworth’s stepmother Mandy told Sky News she believed institutional homophobia in the Met Police was “part of the recipe of disaster”.
“I think there’s an element of homophobia, but I also believe it was habitual,” she said.
“I think they got into a habit of working that didn’t involve any kind of curiosity or looking deeper than they needed to.”
Daniel’s father Adam Whitworth branded the standard of the police investigation “abominable”, and the couple believe his death could have been avoided.
“Time after time after time, from top to bottom in the Barking borough, the performance of the police has been inexplicable,” Mr Whitworth said.
Police ‘deeply sorry’ for missed opportunities
A Met Police chief apologised to the victims’ families during the inquest, saying he was “deeply sorry” there were a number of opportunities missed to arrest Port.
Deputy assistant commissioner Stuart Cundy, who led a review of the investigations into the deaths of Port’s murder victims, said it was “quite astonishing” that some officers did not follow instructions to get evidence in the case.
Mr Cundy said the victims’ family members “should not have been ignored” and there was a “clear possibility that Stephen Port could have been identified and arrested sooner than he was”.
Following the jury’s findings, Met Police Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball also apologised but denied the force was homophobic.
She said: “We don’t see institutional homophobia. We don’t see homophobia on the part of our officers. We do see all sorts of errors in the investigation, which came together in a truly dreadful way.”
Ms Ball said she and Ms Dick have offered to meet personally with the victims’ loved ones to hear their concerns.
Since the inquests began, a new alleged victim has come forward to say they believe they were drugged and sexually assaulted by Port in the same period.
The coroner said she would write a prevention of future deaths report, to be published in the new year, adding: “These inquests, on any view, have raised a number of serious concerns.”
All four of Port’s murder victims were unlawfully killed, the jury recorded.