The Metropolitan police are to be reinvestigated by the police watchdog over the handling of the murders of four young men by the serial killer Stephen Port as families of the victims believe a “big question mark” remains over whether homophobia played any part in the flawed police inquiries into the killings.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said on Thursday it would re-examine how Scotland Yard investigated Port’s killing spree in Barking, east London, from June 2014 to September 2015, after none of the 17 officers involved in the case faced disciplinary action.
Jurors at new inquests held last year into the deaths of Anthony Walgate, 23, Gabriel Kovari, 22, Daniel Whitworth, 21, and Jack Taylor, 25, concluded that police failings “probably” contributed to the deaths of the last three victims. The IOPC said new evidence at those inquests that was “previously unknown to us” had prompted its decision to reinvestigate the MPS over the deaths.
Port, 47, was found guilty and sentenced to a whole life order in November 2016 at the Old Bailey for the murders of the four men.
Neil Hudgell, the families’ solicitor, said it was the “only logical decision open to the IOPC following the weight of evidence” heard at the inquests. “The original IOPC report was hindered by a wall of silence, given that all but one of the 17 officers questioned gave ‘no comment’ interviews.”
He added: “There remains a big question mark over whether police prejudice played a part in the investigations … The inadequate investigations by the Metropolitan police into the four deaths is one of the most widespread institutional failures in modern history, exacerbated by a woeful lack of remorse, regret or sympathy displayed at the inquests by some of the officers involved.
“The inquests identified fundamental failings and basic errors in the investigation into Anthony’s death which meant that Port was free to go on to kill Gabriel, Daniel and Jack.
“We expect the IOPC to investigate with renewed vigour. The families are ready to assist in any way they can, we hope the same can be said of the police.”
The Metropolitan police service had voluntarily referred itself to the police watchdog in October 2015 after it identified concerns over its initial investigations into the four deaths.
The IOPC regional director, Graham Beesley, said since the inquests it had closely examined its original investigation and compared it with the new material heard at the inquests. “A matter can only be reinvestigated by the IOPC if we are satisfied that the original investigation was materially flawed in a manner which had an impact on the subsequent decisions made on discipline, performance and/or referral to the Crown Prosecution Service, and/or there is ‘significant new information’ that requires further investigation.
“In our original investigation, we examined the actions of 17 officers. All but one gave no comment interviews under misconduct caution and chose to provide written responses to the investigators.
“Following analysis of the new information provided at the inquest, we have concluded that the original investigation needed to be wider in scope and, therefore, certain lines of inquiries were not followed. Had this information been known at the time it may have led to different decisions on outcomes.”
A new team has been appointed.
The inquest jury found that officers in Barking missed repeated opportunities to catch Port after he fatally administered the date rape drug GHB to Walgate, his first victim, before dumping his body.
Port struck three more times before he was finally caught, killing each victim in near-identical circumstances, with police failing to link him to the deaths despite detective work carried out by the victims’ family and friends that could have led them to the killer earlier.
Officers had denied accusations of prejudice and homophobia, instead blaming mistakes on being understaffed and lacking resources, with some acting up in senior positions.