Met officers who failed Stephen Port victims face new probe

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 (Metropolitan Police)
(Metropolitan Police)

Metropolitan Police officers who failed to spot serial Stephen Port are to be reinvestigated, a watchdog accounced on Thursday.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct previously investigated the force’s initial probe after a voluntary referral in 2015, and subsequently shared its findings with the families of the victims and a coroner in 2018.

None of the 17 officers involved in the case faced disciplinary action.

New inquests last December revealed evidence previously unknown to the IOPC from officers who had been subject to the earlier probe.

Relatives of Port’s victims have launched civil claims against the Met over its bungled investigations into their deaths between June 2014 and September 2015 in Barking, East London.

Inquest jurors found “fundamental failures” by the police probably contributed to the deaths of three victims — Gabriel Kovari, 22, Daniel Whitworth, 21, and Jack Taylor 25.

Their relatives and those of Anthony Walgate, 23, his first victim, accused the Met of “institutional homophobia” in the way that it handled the investigations, but this has been denied by force chiefs.

IOPC regional director Graham Beesley said: “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.

Gabriel Kovari was murdered by serial killer Stephen Port (PA/ handout) (PA Media)
Gabriel Kovari was murdered by serial killer Stephen Port (PA/ handout) (PA Media)

“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.”

The inquest jury found officers in Barking, east London, missed repeated opportunities to catch Port after he plied first victim, Mr Walgate, with a fatal dose of date-rape drug GHB and dumped 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 would lead them to the culprit.

Officers had denied accusations of prejudice and homophobia, instead blaming mistakes on being understaffed and lacking resources, with some acting up in senior positions.

The Met said the force will offer “every support” to the fresh investigation into the way officers initially handled the deaths.

Acting Deputy Commissioner Helen Ball said: “The deaths of these four young men is a tragedy and we are deeply sorry there were failings in our police response. Again, I give my own and the Met’s heartfelt apologies.

“The whole of the Met is committed to improving our investigations, our relationships and the trust people have in us to keep them safe.

“Since the deaths of Anthony, Gabriel, Daniel and Jack we have worked hard to ensure the service we provide is better while understanding we have more to do.

“Learning and recommendations from the Independent Office for Police Conduct, Her Majesty’s Coroner and our LGBT+ Independent Advisory Group of community members have enabled us to make a range of improvements.

“Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services are with us now carrying out an inspection into how we respond to and investigate death.

“We look forward to their findings and any recommendations they may have.

“If the IOPC reinvestigation makes further recommendations for improvements we will of course consider those very seriously, in addition to any misconduct matters that may arise.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan welcomed the IOPC’s decision, adding: “The quality of the investigation carried out by the Met at the time of the murders raised a number of serious concerns – particularly around homophobia - and it is right that they are being looked into again in more detail.

“We owe it to the victims, their loved ones and all those impacted to ensure nothing like this can ever happen again and the Mayor is fully committed to holding the Met to account and working with them and partners to ensure all learning from the deaths of these innocent young men is translated into meaningful action and change.

“It is vital that London’s LGBTQ+ community has confidence in our police and the Met are able to gain the trust and confidence of all the communities it serves so that every Londoner, regardless of background or postcode can feel safe, protected and served.”

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