The Metropolitan Police Service’s (MPS) failures to capture serial killer Stephen Port “could happen again” as the force has not learned enough from the case, according to a new report.
From June 2014 to September 2015, Port murdered at least four men – Anthony Walgate, 23, Gabriel Kovari, 22, Daniel Whitworth, 21, and Jack Taylor, 25 – before being arrested on 15 October 2015.
Port met his victims online (including gay dating app Grindr) before leading them to his home in Barking, London where they were given lethal doses of a date rape drug before being raped and killed.
The MPS failed to link the fatalities despite the striking similarities between them, such as the bodies of three of the four known victims being discovered at the same graveyard in Barking.
The report states that His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) undertook the inspection to understand whether or not the MPS “has learned the lessons” of this case in the eight years since its failures in saving the lives of some of Port’s victims, as well as to understand whether or not it could happen again.
The findings, which were released on 27 April, stated that “five particular issues kept arising in the deaths investigated by the MPS”.
These were as follows:
- “Not enough training is provided to instil in officers an investigative mindset, such as training on coronial matters, sudden death training for response officers and their supervisors, and training to cover the lessons learned from the Stephen Port case;
- “Oversight and supervision are poor, such as a lack of supervision when inexperienced response officers attend a report of an unexpected death and inadequate oversight of death reports for the coroner;
- “Record keeping is unacceptable, such as poor-quality death reports with basic details omitted or incorrectly recorded, confusing case-management systems, and incorrectly packaged, labelled and recorded property and exhibits;
- “Policy and guidance is confusing, such as an overwhelming amount of policy and guidance (often undated and poorly constructed) that causes confusion; and
- “Intelligence and crime analysis processes are inadequate, which can lead to the reliance on luck to identify links between deaths at a local level and make it less likely that any links between minor incidents and crimes, that may be precursors to more serious events, are identified.”
“Impossible to reach any definitive conclusions”
New inquests into Port’s murders were held in 2021 and heard one of the victim’s friends accuse the officers working on the case of “institutional homophobia” after they effectively shrugged off pleas from loved ones to investigate Port and other evidence in relation to the case.
The report’s foreword, which was written by Matt Parr CB, HM Inspector of Constabulary, referenced Baroness Casey’s recent review which concluded that the Met Police is institutionally homophobic, racist and sexist.
He stated, however, that it is “impossible to reach any definitive conclusions” on whether or not homophobia played a part in the MPS failing to investigate Port’s murders properly, as well as why it failed to provide the victim’s families with an appropriate and respectful service.
“Undoubtedly there were, and still are, homophobic officers serving in the MPS; equally, there was (at the time of the Port murders) a lack of understanding of the lifestyles of those they were investigating,” his foreword continued. “But the evidence of this inspection points predominantly to the five failings listed above as the primary explanation for the MPS’s flawed investigations.”
“Nobody is denying that there are homophobic officers in the Met”
During a media briefing ahead of the report’s release, GAY TIMES asked Parr what made the HMICFRS determine that homophobia was not one of the primary explanations for the police’s poor investigation.
“Nobody is denying that there are homophobic officers in the Met and I think Baroness Casey has given that a very, very clear articulation,” he explained. “I think the difference here is that, as we’ve looked, we’ve made some criticisms about the way the Met’s understanding of the community and whether that led to the bad decision at the start and the weak investigation. We did not find evidence that it did.”
Parr added that the officers working on the case at the time were not individually asked about whether or not they were “motivated by hate or distrust or homophobia”.
“We didn’t do that and that wasn’t really what we were about,” he continued. “We’re not reinvestigating what went wrong in 2014 and 2015, we’re looking at whether the Met has learnt the lessons and what it is about the way they deal with unexplained death now that keeps the risks high of something like Port happening again. So, I’m not disputing the viewpoint of the families and indeed many other people who have drawn those conclusions, but we didn’t see the evidence of it.”
He also stated that the MPS’s first mistake was not realising that the victims were gay, which was the result of “a lack of professionalism and a lack of expertise across the board in the way that they deal with unexplained deaths and, had they not been four young gay men, the same thing would have happened.”
As a result of its findings, the HMICFRS has made 20 recommendations to the Met, including a suggested increase in the use of intelligence by officers responding to deaths and improving family liaison in unexpected death cases.
Responding to the report, Louisa Rolfe, Assistant Commissioner of the MPS, said the force is “sincerely sorry” it “failed” the victims and their families.
“We have to get the basics right. That’s around how we train and support our officers to investigate deaths, identify suspicious circumstances and understand how protected characteristics may impact on those investigations,” she continued.
“Our death investigation policy is sound, now it’s about turning policy into effective practice. To do this we have reviewed and updated our training for frontline officers and have begun a programme of enhanced training for their supervisors.
“We are also moving quickly on family liaison. We know we fell short in this case and the families did not get the service they needed or deserved. It is important we look again at this area to see what more we need to do to support families through such difficult times.
“We will fully consider the recommendations made by HMICFRS* and ensure these are not just fully addressed but embedded into our working practices. This is what we have been doing with previous recommendations from the Coroner and the Independent Office for Police Conduct.
“We are sincere in our desire to make real change to minimise the chance of a case like this ever happening again.”
You can read the report in full here.