An inspection of the Metropolitan Police Service’s response to lessons from the Stephen Port murders by His Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services
(Page references refer to the PDF document
We begin with a Forward by His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Matt Parr. He does not mince words. He starts by summarising the case and highlighting that it wasn't until the fourth murder, that of Jack Taylor, that they the police even realised that these men had been murdered.
Had the police conducted a professional and thorough investigation after Anthony Walgate’s death, it is entirely possible that the other three men would still be alive. But the MPS’s initial response to each of the deaths was reprehensible. [my emphasis, p1]
Oh, these are interesting terms of reference:
The purpose of this inspection was to establish whether eight years after a calamitous litany of failures, the MPS has learned the lessons. In particular, we sought to establish whether this could happen again. [p1]
Parr explains that deaths in the community are referred to the police who then decide whether investigation is warranted. Most (86% in 2022, or 9,481) do receive investigation but the investigation by HMICFRS 'found that five particular issues kept arising in the deaths investigated by the MPS' [p1] and 'collectively, offer the most convincing explanation for why the Port investigations were so badly flawed' [p1].
They are 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. [p1-2]
Parr recognises and accepts that the Met is overstretched 'But it doesn’t absolve the MPS of its responsibility to meet basic requirements.' [p2].
Parr also acknowledges the Casey report and its finding of institutional homophobia. Interestingly, Parr doesn't think it's possible to determine whether homophobia played a role in the mishandling of this case, and thinks that the five failings listed about are the 'primary explanation for the MPS's flawed investigations' [p2].
The most challenging question for us to answer is whether events like these could happen again. History and the findings of this inspection tell us that they will. [my emphasis, p2]
I'm going to skip the summary for now as I think we'll be covering the areas of discussion in greater detail but will come back to it at the end to see its recommendations.
We start with a brief summary of of Port's murders which started in June 2014. The report points out,
Despite obvious similarities, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) failed to see that the deaths might be connected. The force even failed to recognise that the four men, who were all gay, had been murdered. [p23]
I didn't realise but there was a coroner's inquest into the deaths of Gabriel Kovari and Daniel Whitworth in May 2015, months before Jack Taylor was murdered. The coroner returned open verdicts in June 2015, 'saying there was no reliable evidence on which to base her findings.' [p23] That open verdict has since been quashed by the High Court.
HMICFRS was commissioned in December 2021 to produce this investigation.
We were asked to inspect the MPS’s current standard of death investigations and assure the then MPS Commissioner, Cressida Dick, and the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime that the MPS had learned from these cases. We focused on five broad areas, following the terms of reference for this inspection, which are:
• initial death categorisation and investigation procedures;
• family liaison processes in relation to death investigation;
• inclusion, diversity and equalities considerations when investigating death;
• leadership and accountability of death investigation; and
• learning lessons from ongoing investigations. [p24]
As with the Casey Review, the open IOPC investigation into the officers involved in the initial investigations means this investigation can't comment on this or the IOPC's involvement. However, HMICFRS was also asked to cary out a separate thematic inspection of homicide prevention in English and Welsh police forces and that inspection is due to be published this summer. Another one to keep an eye out for.
Chapter 1 - A summary of the Metropolitan Police Service’s response to the four deaths
We start with a brief bio of Stephen Port. He is openly gay and would meet men for sex through hook-up apps, often at Barking Rail Station, then take them to his flat. 'There, he drugged and raped many of them.' [p26]
While Port had no criminal convictions at the time of his first murder, 'had already come to the attention of the police on two occasions' [p27] and there were incident reports on file which 'should have raised concerns because of their similarities to the circumstances of Anthony Walgate’s death.' [p27].
The first report was made on 1 January 2013 by a former partner who said that Port repeatedly drugged and raped him. The victim didn't support a criminal prosecution but the information was recorded.
A second report was made on 4 June 2014 - two weeks before Port's first murder - by British Transport Police who found Port at Barking Rail Station with a man 'under the influence of drugs' [p27]. Port said he'd met the man through the internet.
Anthony Patrick Walgate
Anthony 'Ant' Walgate was born on 8 May 1991. He grew up in Hull and was living in London, studying fashion, when he was murdered by Port some time between 17 and 19 June 2014. He was 23 years old.
Port dumped his body in the street outside the block of flats where he lived then made an anonymous 999 call saying that he'd found a young man who'd collapsed. While officers attending the scene thought there were signs of bruising on Anthony's torso, a crime scene manager said it was due to blood accumulating in his lower extremities following death.
Police were able to trace Port through his mobile which he'd used to report 'finding' Anthony. They got a written statement from him, saying that he'd found Anthony when returning home from work.
A post mortem found bruising on his inner upper left arm, that his boxer shorts were inside out and back to front and the fly on his jeans was open with a broken zip. Despite all these red flags, the examination was 'inconclusive, although the findings were consistent with a drug overdose' [p28]. Toxicology results weren't received until 10 September 2014, almost 3 months later, and after two more victims had already been killed.
By 26 June 2014 the investigating officers had found the report by Port's former partner. They'd also had friends of Anthony's identify Port as the man he'd arranged to meet, though under a false name.
Port was interviewed and admitted that he'd met Anthony for sex but claimed Anthony drugged himself, left him when he went to work and panicked when he returned and found him dead.
During the interviews, Port apparently referred to the 2014 incident at Barking Railway Station. The interviewing officers didn’t realise the significance of what he was saying and failed to request a PND record check to investigate it further. p28]
Port was charged with perverting the course of justice, to which he pleaded guilty and was was sentenced to 8 months in prison on 23 March 2015. He committed two more murders while on bail and another after he was released.
Gabriel Kovari was born on 17 June 1992 in Košice, Slovakia. He had finished his degree in Slovakia and was in London hoping to use his language skills to work as a translator in the NHS [source
]. He met Port online and moved in with him on 23 August 2014. He shared his location with a friend (Anthony had also told friends who he was meeting and where - these are men who know they are vulnerable and are doing what they can to keep themselves safe. That it didn't work is heartbreaking). He was 22 when he was killed.
Gabriel was found by Barbara Denham who was walking her dog and two others on her usual route through St Margaret's Churchyard
in Barking. He was slumped against a wall and at first she thought he had just had a rough night but after trying to politely rouse him decided to call the police. She said his glasses were 'skew-whiff' and had a 'large black trolley bag and a smaller black bag with him' which she thought was 'strange'. [source
The police attended and, again, found no sign of apparent injury... The police didn’t treat his death as suspicious. [p29]
The toxicology report didn't come back until 7 October 2014, after Daniel Whitworth had been murdered, and showed fatal levels of GHB.
Gabriel's friends made better detectives than the police:
Gabriel’s friends started to make their own enquiries into his death. One found an app user who appeared to know Gabriel. The app user said his name was Jon Luck. They exchanged frequent messages. ‘Luck’ was, in fact, Stephen Port. [p29]
Daniel Whitworth was born on 22 March 1993. He was born and raised in Gravesend and was working there as a chef when he was murdered. He was in a long-term relationship with Ricky Waumsley, who has subsequently spoken out
about his treatment by the Met and their poor investigation of Daniel's murder.
Daniel arranged to meet Port on 18 September 2014 and, in the most incredible bad luck, Barbara Denham - the lady who found Gabriel's body - found Daniel's in the same place on the morning of the 20th. He was holding an apparent suicide note saying he was to blame for the death of 'Gabriel Kline'. Daniel was 21 years old.
The police emailed a fragment of the note to Daniel’s father and asked him to identify his son’s handwriting. Conflicting evidence was later given at the inquests as to whether he had done this. Daniel’s father said that he couldn’t be sure, while the police said that he had made a positive identification. Regardless, the police treated the note as authentic.
We understand that the police took possession of an address book which Daniel used. Apparently, the handwriting in the book was clearly different to that on the supposed suicide note. The police didn’t compare it. [p29-30]
Daniel's partner Ricky said he wasn't shown the letter until a year after
'The post-mortem examination was, again, inconclusive' [p30]. The toxicology results weren't received until November 2014 and the final post-mortem report wasn't received until April 2015, by which time the investigation had been closed and Port was in prison for perverting the course of justice.
Jack Taylor was born on 20 June 1990 in Newham and was living with his family in Dagenham at the time of his murder. He worked in a warehouse. Jack met Port through the internet and met up in the early hours of 13 September 2015 in Barking.
He was found by a parks worker on September 14 2015 on the other side of the wall that Gabriel and Daniel were found. [source
] He was 25 years old.
Jack's parents were told of Jack's death by police officers in the most horrendous fashion:
When Jack Taylor's parents received a knock on the door from police, they had no clue their son had been murdered by a serial killer – and neither did the officers investigating his death.
"Are you Jack's mum and dad?" an officer asked them.
"Yes," Jack's parents replied.
"He's dead," the officer said. [source
Despite being the third young man found in that churchyard in just over a year, the staging of the scene by Port was apparently sufficient to convince the police it was a 'non-suspicious drug overdose' [p30].
Jack's family were not convinced - he was hoping to join the police and was anti-drugs - so they set out to do their own investigations.
They trawled through his Facebook and came across an online article about two other men - Gabriel Kovari and Daniel Whitworth - being found dead in the church grounds in Barking.
Donna said she gave police all the information they needed to link the deaths but was met with a "closed-minded attitude". [source
The police eventually obtained CCTV of Jack in Barking, walking with a man, and an officer from the investigation into Anthony Walgate's death recognised Port.
It was only then that the MPS linked the cases and started a thorough reinvestigation. [p30]
The investigation says that,
The initial police response to the deaths of four young men, whose bodies were found in the open, was wholly unacceptable. The MPS failed to carry out even the most basic enquiries and in only one case (the first, Anthony Walgate) conducted anything approaching a competent investigation. Furthermore, its interaction with the victims’ families wasn’t good enough. It was uncaring and, at times, virtually non-existent.
The MPS treated each case in isolation and failed to find, or even look for, the obvious links between them. They decided that each cause of death was a self-administered drug overdose and generally looked for little else. Even when the same officers attended different deaths in almost identical circumstances, their suspicions weren’t aroused.
Had officers shown even a little more awareness, Stephen Port’s potential involvement would have become apparent very quickly...
Even when the coroner raised concerns about bruising and a failure to forensically examine items, including DNA and fingerprint examinations, the police did nothing. They didn’t even properly investigate the authenticity of Daniel Whitworth’s supposed suicide note.
These failings have largely been attributed to the action, or inaction, of local officers. But central specialist teams must also shoulder the blame. When local officers realised that Port had lied to them about Anthony Walgate’s death, they asked the MPS’s homicide and major crime command unit to take charge of the investigation. It declined to do so, as the investigation hadn’t yet been assessed as homicide. With all its experience and resources, had it taken over, much of what followed could have been averted. [my emphasis, p30-31]
We end this chapter with a brief description of Operation Lifford, the name given to the reinvestigation into the deaths of the four men once Port had been identified as a potential link.
Faced with the prospect of using their limited resources and experience to investigate a serial killer, they turned, again, to the MPS’s specialist murder investigators. Surprisingly, the specialist team didn’t initially accept primacy for the investigation. But the next day (15 October 2015) it reviewed its decision and took charge. [my emphasis, p31]
This investigation was 'swift, painstaking and thorough – as the original investigation should have been' [p31]. The experienced officers who reviewed the evidence and available information arrested port and charged him with the four murders.
But the investigators didn’t stop there. They suspected that there were more victims who were still alive. Working with LGBTQ+ charities and support groups, they appealed for them to come forward. As a result, Port was later charged with a series of other serious sexual offences against eight different men. Then, in preparation for trial, the police reviewed hundreds of previously reported attacks looking for any connections to Port.
Stephen Port’s trial at the Central Criminal Court (The Old Bailey) lasted for more than two months. He faced 29 charges, which included 4 murders, 7 male rapes, 4 other assaults by penetration and 10 charges of administering GHB to stupefy for a
sexual purpose. In November 2016, he was convicted of 22 offences against a total of 11 men (including the four murder victims). The trial judge sentenced him to life imprisonment with a whole life order. [my emphasis, p32]
It makes me want to cry with anger. So many lives irrevocably harmed because the police couldn't make the most obvious of connections or show the least bit curiosity about the deaths of four young men. The fact that the families were the ones who were able to make the connections necessary to identify Port as a viable suspect in the murder shows that no special skills or technological access was needed. All that was needed was the drive to actually go and look into the obvious anomalies. It's disgusting how negligent the police have been.