‘History could repeat itself’: Met police has not learned from failures in Stephen Port case, warns watchdog

·5-min read
Serial killer Stephen Port  (PA)
Serial killer Stephen Port (PA)

The Metropolitan Police has still not learned from its “calamitous litany of failures” in the case of serial killer Stephen Port and “history could repeat itself”, inspectors warn.

A report from His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services found officers at the force were still “inexperienced, untrained and poorly supervised”.

Relatives of Port’s victims accuse the Met of “institutional homophobia” over its bungled investigation.

He drugged his victims with overdoses of GHB and dumped their bodies near his flat in Barking, east London.

He first killed Anthony Walgate, 23 in June 2014. Inquest jurors the found “fundamental failures” by the police probably contributed to the deaths of three others — Gabriel Kovari, 22, Daniel Whitworth, 21, and Jack Taylor 25 – up until September 2015.

HMICFRS said initial assessments of Port’s victims were the catalysts for the subsequent failings, adding: “We aren’t confident that the Metropolitan Police has addressed this yet.”

Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe said the force is “sincere in our desire to make real change to minimise the chance of a case like this ever happening again”.

Daniel Whitworth, Jack Taylor, Anthony Walgate and Gabriel Kovari were murdered during a 16-month period by Stephen Port (Metropolitan Police/PA) (PA Media)
Daniel Whitworth, Jack Taylor, Anthony Walgate and Gabriel Kovari were murdered during a 16-month period by Stephen Port (Metropolitan Police/PA) (PA Media)

It comes after Baroness Louise Casey branded the force institutionally racist, misogynistic and homophobic.

Her bombshell report looked into Sarah Everard’s killer PC Wayne Couzens who worked in the same armed unit as serial rapist David Carrick.

Assistant Commissioner Rolfe said: “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.”

Inspectors considered whether homophobia explained why the Met did not investigate Port’s killings properly, but said it was “impossible to reach any definitive conclusions”.

The report did, however, say there “were and still are homophobic officers” at the force and that there was a “lack of understanding of the lifestyle of those they were investigating”.

Instead, HMICFRS pointed to training, oversight and supervision, unacceptable record keeping, confusing policy and guidance, and inadequate intelligence and crime analysis, as reasons for the flawed investigations.

The report said some staff had said the poor supervision was at times due to “laziness” – with money and drugs being found in a dead victim’s possession at the mortuary following officers “supposedly” searching them at the scene.

Inspectors said records of deaths had “basic omissions”, written witness statements, if taken at all, tended to be “too brief and lacked important details” and there was little evidence house-to-house inquiries were completed by officers.

HMICFRS said the force had also been “slow to listen and reluctant to change until it is forced to do so” following recent inspections.

Inspectors have made 20 recommendations for the Met, which include increasing the use of intelligence by officers responding to deaths and improving family liaison in unexpected death cases.

After the publication of the report, His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Matt Parr said: “Nearly eight years after Stephen Port murdered his last victim, the Met has still not learned enough from the calamitous litany of failures in that case.

“The Met made some changes soon after Port’s arrest. But in other respects, it took a high-profile coroner’s inquest and subsequent inspection by us to spur the Met into action.

“We regularly hear that the Met is inexperienced and that its resources are stretched, which we accept.

“But that doesn’t absolve the Met of its responsibility to meet basic requirements.”

Mr Parr continued: “From poor training and supervision to inadequate crime analysis processes, there are several explanations for why the Met got this so badly wrong.

“Issues with the Met’s culture and officers’ behaviour have been widely recognised. However, the Met’s problems with competence and professionalism run even deeper: too often, they don’t get the basics right.

“Our inspection has shown that history could repeat itself. That is why the Met must learn from its mistakes and act now on our recommendations, to keep all Londoners safe.”

Last June, the Independent Office for Police Conduct announced officers who failed to spot Port are to be reinvestigated.

None of the 17 officers involved in the case faced disciplinary action at the time. New inquests in December 2021 revealed evidence previously unknown to the IOPC from officers who had been subject to an earlier probe.

Relatives of Port’s victims have launched civil claims against the Met.

London mayor Sadiq Khan said: “I commissioned this independent report from His Majesty’s Inspectorate due to my concerns around errors in the police investigation that meant that Stephen Port was not stopped when he should have been.

“We owe it to Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth, Jack Taylor and their loved ones to do everything possible to ensure this can never happen again.

“We must confront the institutional homophobia Baroness Casey’s Review found in the Met and the operational failures in the force which today’s report have laid bare.

“Every Londoner – irrespective of sexuality, gender or race – has the right to have their allegations of crime taken seriously by police and the Met must ensure the quality of their initial investigations is of a higher standard.

“Never again should the integrity of a case be compromised by the victim’s circumstances or background.

“This is absolutely vital to rebuilding the confidence of London’s LGBTQI+ community in our police.

“Sir Mark and the new team at the top of the Met have assured me that they are committed to reform and getting the basics right.

“As Mayor, I will continue to support and hold the Met to account to in delivering a police service that is trusted, representative and delivers the highest possible service to every community in our city as we work to build a safer London for everyone.”