Stephen Port victims' families 'losing confidence' in police watchdog

Caroline Davies
British serial killer Stephen Port was convicted for the murder of four young men he met online. Photograph: AP

Families of four young men murdered by the serial killer Stephen Port are “losing confidence” in the police watchdog investigating the Metropolitan police handling of the case, their lawyer has said.

Former chef Port, 41, was sentenced in November to spend the rest of his life in prison for the murder of the four men he drugged and raped before dumping their bodies near his east London flat.

His trial heard he had a fetish for sex with unconscious boyish-looking men he sought out on dating apps and social media before drugging them with the date-rape drug GHB.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) launched an investigation into the handling of the case. Police initially failed to link the deaths of Anthony Walgate, 23, Jack Taylor, 25, Daniel Whitworth, 21, and Gabriel Kovari, 22, despite striking similarities.

Solicitor Neil Hudgell, representing their families, said that none of the 19 Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) officers under investigation had yet been interviewed by the IPCC.

Families felt the IPCC was “becoming impotent in the face of stalling by the MPS” and that the IPCC report, a first draft of which they had expected by autumn, would not now be ready, and the report was unlikely to be finalised until 2018, he said.

“The families feel that history is repeating itself as the MPS continues to ignore them. They are losing confidence that the IPCC has the ability to get to the truth; the longer this drags on, the greater the chance of evidence being lost or forgotten,” said Hudgell.

Mandy Pearson, the stepmother of Whitworth, said: “We continue to seek answers and accountability from the police about how, for a whole year, they let us believe that Daniel had committed suicide, in which time Port went on to kill again.

“We really did hope that, with Port now behind bars, the police would be held to account for their actions. The fact that after all this time we’re still no further forward is insulting and distressing for all the families. However, the MPS should know that none of us will ever give up their search for the truth and we will keep the pressure on.”

The families have instructed lawyers ahead of possible legal action against the Metropolitan police over the force’s handling of the investigation.

All four men died from overdoses of GHB, also known as G or liquid ecstasy. The body of Walgate, Port’s first victim, was found just outside the communal entrance to Port’s one-bedroom Barking flat. The other three were discovered in a churchyard near Port’s home.

Police questioned Port at the time of Walgate’s death in June 2014. He lied about how he had discovered the body and was arrested, charged with perverting the course of justice, and released. He then went on to murder Kovari and Whitworth in August and September 2014.

In March 2015, Port was convicted of making a false statement to police about finding Walgate collapsed outside his flat when in fact he had died inside. He was jailed for eight months for perverting the course of justice, but then released on an electronic tag in June. He killed Taylor in September.

The IPCC has said it will examine whether discrimination played any part in the police failing to link the deaths. The Metropolitan police said after Port’s conviction it was re-examining 58 unexplained deaths involving the drug GHB from a four-year period across London.

IPCC commissioner Cindy Butts said it had undertaken a “rigorous process” of pre-interview disclosure, running to more than 7,000 pages, which had been provided to representatives of the officers. The officers had asked for time to “understand and absorb the information”.

“The integrity of our investigation depends on getting this process right. While we would have preferred to have been more advanced in our interviews with officers by this time, the investigation is ongoing and we are continuing to progress other investigative steps.”

“We continue to keep the families of Anthony, Gabriel, Daniel, and Jack updated, as well as community stakeholders, and we are grateful for the information and insight that has already been provided to us. The investigation team is committed to providing them with answers to their questions and concerns, and will do so as soon as it can.”

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