A man who effectively turned detective to help investigate the murder of young, gay men by serial killer Stephen Port accused police of “institutional homophobia” by repeatedly dismissing evidence due to the victims’ sexuality.
John Pape, who said he had a “whirlwind friendship” with Slovakian Gabriel Kovari in summer 2014, said he provided the Metropolitan Police with information he thought might link the deaths.
By September that year, Port had murdered Anthony Walgate Mr Kovari and Daniel Whitworth by plying them with fatal doses of the drug GHB and dumping their bodies near his home in Barking, east London.
A fourth – later established to be unconnected – death of a 39-year-old man was also confirmed around the same time, leading to further fears that the deaths were connected.
Mr Pape said he tracked down Mr Kovari’s former boyfriend, Thierry Amodio, who was told by another man – later established to be Port – that the men were drugged at orgies involving older men.
But Mr Pape said police seemed to dismiss his attempts to provide them with information.
He told the inquests into the deaths at Barking Town Hall: “I think it’s been said here that the police were underfunded and under emotional strain.
“But I think, when grieving families, boyfriend and friends are getting close to the truth and trying to raise the alarm 10 months before the Met are even willing to acknowledge the deaths are suspicious, it can’t be a funding issue.
“What resources did the families and friends have?
“What emotional strain were we under at that time?
“The only thing that makes sense about how disturbingly incompetent this investigation was is prejudice.
“If the lives and deaths of young gay and bi men aren’t treated with significance and respect, I think that amounts to institutional homophobia.”
I didn't trust the police to link it properly. I was concerned about young, gay men in Barking
John Pape, friend of murder victim Gabriel Kovari
He said he was told by police at the original inquests for Mr Kovari and Mr Whitworth that there was no evidence which suggested the two men knew each other, despite a “suicide note” found on Mr Whitworth’s body taking responsibility for killing Mr Kovari.
Mr Pape said he contacted gay charities, the gay press and campaigner Peter Tatchell to explain his concerns, adding: “I didn’t trust the police to link it properly.
“I was concerned about young, gay men in Barking.”
Mr Pape wept as he described hearing that Port had been arrested.
He said: “I think I felt a mix of emotions, certainly a kind of anger because it felt like I had these concerns … that an older man might be preying on younger men … and I felt like I hadn’t been listened to.
“I wish I could go back and tell myself to push it more.”
In 2016, Port, now 46, was given a whole life sentence after being found guilty of murdering Mr Walgate, 23, Mr Kovari, 22, Mr Whitworth, 21, and final victim Jack Taylor, 25, between June 2014 and September 2015.
Peter Skelton QC, counsel for the Metropolitan Police, said officers involved in the case had apologised for the police response, but suggested to Mr Pape that “incompetence does not always equate to prejudice”.
Mr Pape replied: “I would agree that what happened here was incompetence… But behind that incompetence there has to be a reason why so many people were making such shocking mistakes.”
The inquests continue.