Stephen Port inquests: Victims’ families call police investigation ‘widespread institutional failure’

“We continue to believe that had the police done their jobs properly in the first place, Gabriel, Daniel and Jack would not have been killed and other young men would not have been drugged and raped by him.”

<p>From left: Thomas Walgate and Sarah Sak, Anthony Walgate’s parents; Adam and Amanda Whitworth, father and stepmother of Daniel Whitworth; Neil Hudgell, solicitor; Jenny and Donna Taylor, sisters of Jack Taylor. In back row from right: Colin Taylor, Jeanette Taylor, parents of Jack Taylor, and Donna’s partner, Andy Ireland. Photo: LondonWorld</p>

From left: Thomas Walgate and Sarah Sak, Anthony Walgate’s parents; Adam and Amanda Whitworth, father and stepmother of Daniel Whitworth; Neil Hudgell, solicitor; Jenny and Donna Taylor, sisters of Jack Taylor. In back row from right: Colin Taylor, Jeanette Taylor, parents of Jack Taylor, and Donna’s partner, Andy Ireland. Photo: LondonWorld

The families of serial killer Stephen Port’s four gay male victims have described the investigation into their deaths as “one of the most widespread institutional failures in modern history” and that “four white, heterosexual girls” would have been treated differently.

It comes after an inquest jury found police failings “probably” contributed to the deaths of Anthony Walgate, 23, Gabriel Kovari, 22, Daniel Whitworth, 21, and Jack Taylor, 25.

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Speaking on behalf of the families, their lawyer Neil Hudgell, of Hudgell Solicitors, told media following the inquest, which concluded at Barking Town Hall today (Friday, December 10) that the victims’ relatives felt “thoroughly vindicated” by the jury’s findings.

He said: “The jury has been unanimous in identifying fundamental failings and basic errors in the investigation into Anthony’s death which meant that Port was not stopped, and was allowed to carry on with his terrible acts.

“We continue to believe that had the police done their jobs properly in the first place, Gabriel, Daniel and Jack would not have been killed and other young men would not have been drugged and raped by him.”

Mr Hudgell continued: “We are incensed by the police’s successful efforts to prevent the jury from examining whether prejudice played any part in the police’s actions.

“The coroner did not rule that the police were not homophobic, and our position remains unchanged; based on the treatment we received, our firmly held belief is that the Metropolitan Police’s actions were, in part, driven by homophobia.

“Had four, white, heterosexual girls been found dead in the same manner as Anthony, Gabriel, Daniel and Jack, then the police’s actions, and the likely outcomes, would have been different.”

The families told the media they believe the police have learned “very little... on the issue of homophobia.

“The inquests represent the first time we have had the opportunity to hear from the police in a public forum,” Mr Hudgell said.

“It has taken seven years.”

The families have also demanded the Met and the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) revisit the issue of officers involved in the cases who continue to serve with the force.

They continued: “There is nothing that can return Anthony, Gabriel, Daniel or Jack to us. Their killer has rightly been held accountable, but the police have not.

“It distresses us hugely that many of the officers who failed us so badly continue to serve as police officers without any significant sanctions.

“We ask the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson and the Home Secretary, Priti Patel how that can be right? What faith in policing can the British public have when failings not only go unpunished, but are instead rewarded?

“How can the much-touted platitude of ‘lessons being learnt’ be true when there is a culture of rewarding failure?

“During the inquests we have heard apologies from several officers. The fact that all of these apologies have come about only because of the inquest process, renders them hollow.

“Finally, but most importantly, we want to say to Anthony, Gabriel, Daniel and Jack that you will never be forgotten.

“We feel your loss every minute of every day, we will forever wonder how your lives would have turned out, but you live on strongly in our cherished memories.”

Stephen Port was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment serving a whole life order in November 2016 at the Old Bailey, and is set to die behind bars.

Jurors today (Friday, December 10) decided that police failings “probably” contributed to the deaths, after coroner Sarah Munro QC, instructed them to return conclusions of “unlawful killing” but ruled out homophobia as an issue for the jury to consider in its conclusions.

During an inquest held at Barking Town Hall, just yards from where the victims were given fatal overdoses, the jury heard evidence as to whether “errors” or flaws in the police investigations into the deaths may have led to the killings of Port’s subsequent victims.

It came after families of the murdered young men gave testimony at the inquest, including that police had refused to link the cases, had not checked Port’s laptop and had failed to properly assess a forged suicide note found with the body of Daniel Whitworth, the killer’s third victim.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Cundy, previously told the inquests there was a “serious failure of policing”.

He said: “Every single one of you absolutely had a right to expect a professional investigation to the standards all of us expected.

“It’s fair to say those standards weren’t met.”

Mr Cundy said there was a “clear possibility that Stephen Port could have been identified and arrested sooner than he was”.

The jury unanimously found all four men were unlawfully killed.

Jurors found the fact officers did not conduct checks relating to Stephen Port on the national database “probably contributed” to the deaths of Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth and Jack Taylor.

They also found “omissions and failings” into the investigation into Anthony Walgate’s death “may have contributed to the deaths of Mr Port’s subsequent victims.

Jurors told the inquest they acknowledged that police officers were under pressure and had a heavy workload, but said there were “failings that cannot be overlooked” which allowed for missed opportunities and ultimately enabled Port to continue his offending.

The coroner also confirmed she would be producing a prevention of future deaths report and has invited submissions from representatives.

Speaking after the inquests, Met police assistant commissioner Helen Ball said: “Today, after hearing seven weeks of detailed evidence, an inquest jury has determined that Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth and Jack Taylor were unlawfully killed.

“They have also found that the deaths of three of those young men – Gabriel, Daniel and Jack – could probably have been prevented had the initial police responses and investigations been better.

“It is a devastating finding. Our thoughts are with everybody who loved these young men. We are so sorry for their loss.

“And we’re also deeply sorry that there were failings in the police response to the murders. I give my own and the Met’s heartfelt apologies.”

Ms Ball continued: “All those who loved Anthony, Gabriel, Daniel and Jack expected a professional and thorough police investigation into their deaths and it is a great sadness for me and everybody at the Met that this didn’t happen.

“We want to give the families, and Daniel’s partner, the opportunity to talk to us so we can listen to their views and concerns. The Commissioner has offered to meet them personally, as have I, and we will take this forward according to their wishes.

“We’ve been working to rebuild trust in the Met for some time now and we completely accept that people’s trust in us has been damaged by a number of recent events.

“What has happened in connection with the deaths of these four young men is part of that damage and we know it has a particular impact on communities local to Barking and LGBT+ communities across London.

“And so it’s very important now that we show that we are trustworthy, that we care, that we have changed and that we are learning so that we can work with every person and every community to help protect them.

“We will examine the jury’s findings very carefully, as we will the recommendations the coroner makes in her report to prevent future deaths, and we will act on those findings and those recommendations.

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

“I should say though, that we haven’t waited until now to make changes. We knew we had to change and we’ve been doing just that. We have more and better trained investigators across the entire Met and new structures so intelligence teams, officers on the ground and specialists can work far more closely to identify trends and link crimes much earlier.

“As a direct result of Port’s offences we have a much clearer step by step policy on how we investigate unexplained deaths to ensure we are doing all we should and a far greater understanding of the drug GHB and its use as a weapon to sexually assault.

“We have strong relationships with LGBT+ people both in our own organisation and across London via our network of advisers who volunteer within their own departments to improve local relationships with LGBT+ communities. We’re working to recruit more advisers and reviewing their role to make sure they are working in the best way possible for our communities. The LGBT+ Independent Advisory Group play a crucial role in building those relationships and improving our policing practice.

“I also want to add that the Deputy Mayor has written to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Policing and Fire and Rescue Services to ask them to review aspects of our investigative practices currently, where they link to issues raised by these investigations. She’s written on behalf of the Commissioner and herself so that she and the Commissioner can have that independent assurance that the changes we have made, and we genuinely think we have made, are actually operating today.

“The whole of the Met, and I know I speak for the whole of the Met, is committed to improving our investigations, our relationships and the trust that people have in us. We believe we have been doing just that and it will remain the focus of our leadership in keeping people safe.”