Stephen Port murders: Met Police ‘risk future deaths’ over Four Lives killer investigation, coroner warns

Now senior judge, Sarah Munro QC, has released a damning report warning of “risks future deaths could occur” unless the force takes action to address the danger zones identified in the Stephen Port case.

The Met Police risk “future deaths” occurring unless actions are taken, a coroner has warned in a damning report following inquests into the Stephen Port murders.

Inquests held at Barking town hall in east London concluded in December 2021 that police failings - including not linking the deaths, not searching Port’s laptop and not verifying the handwriting on a forged suicide note - “probably contributed” to three of the four deaths.

From left, Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth and Jack Taylor. Photo: Supplied

The shocking events were dramatised in the hit series Four Lives, starring Gavin and Stacey actress Sheridan Smith as Anthony’s mother Sarah Sak, and The Office star Stephen Merchant playing Port, which aired on the BBC earlier this month.

Now senior judge, Sarah Munro QC, has released a damning report warning of “risks future deaths could occur” unless the force takes action to address the danger zones identified.

Her concerns included the categorisation of suspicious, non-suspicious and unexplained deaths; interaction between specialist homicide investigators and basic  command unit (BCU) officers; leadership; use of the crime reporting information systems; and the verification of handwriting.

Serial Killer Stephen Port. Credit: Met Police

Force guidance into unexplained death investigations “lacks clarity”, she said while a “lack of ownership and responsibility” may persist in officers tasked with looking into such cases.

She identified “very serious and very basic investigative failings” and said she was “extremely concerned and disappointed”.

Officers investigating Anthony, Gabriel, Daniel and Jack’s deaths “allowed themselves” to consider them unexplained - despite officers being instructed to “think murder”, she found.

Coroners are legally required to issue reports on actions to prevent future deaths if they are concerned “a risk of other deaths will occur or will continue to exist in the future”.

They must also believe actions “to eliminate or reduce the risk of death” should be taken.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Cundy appeared at the inquests today for the Met Police. Credit: CHRIS J RATCLIFFE/AFP via Getty Images

But she added: “Yet time and again I heard evidence of officers lacking the curiosity and motivation to investigate and find out what had actually happened to these young men whose bodies were found in Barking.

“This is a key lesson that should be borne in mind both by the Met Police, and nationally.”

Sheridan Smith, as Sarah Sak, in BBC drama Four Lives. Photo: BBC

The coroner’s formal matters of concern for the Met Police relate to:

  • Describing deaths as “unexplained” which may “distract” from treating as suspicious;
  • Guidance on who leads on death investigations which “still lacks clarity”;
  • Policies on specialist and forensic officer support, which also “lack clarity”;
  • A “lack of ownership and responsibility” for unexplained death investigations
  • The oversight group for complex investigations not being “accessible or understood”;
  • Officers who “may not record” lines of investigation, actions and outcomes;
  • Case logs which may be closed without completion review or “critical assessment”;
  • Force handwriting verification which must be done “appropriately and sensitively”;

She wrote: “Port would arrange to meet young men for sex via websites and apps such as Grindr, Bender, Fitlads and Sleepyboy.

“Sleepyboy does not require any verification from users of the site, which is free to browse and does not require any log-in.

“The police would not have been able to check [Port’s] identity through the Sleepboy website.

“I am concerned that this means that escorts advertising on the Sleepyboy website are left in a particularly vulnerable position”.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick has come under fire following the Sarah Everard murder by police officer Wayne Couzens. Credit: Ming Yeung/Getty Images

The report has been sent to Met Police commissioner Dame Cressida Dick; National Police Chiefs’ Council chairman Martin Hewitt; chief executive of the College of Policing Andy Marsh; and digital culture, media and sport secretary Nadine Dorries.

All the recipients are legally obligated to respond by March 18, outlining the actions they have taken.

The victims’ families, who have been sent the report, say they welcome the coroner’s recommendations.

Neil Hudgell, solicitor for the families of the four men who were murdered said: “It is clear to see that there remain very many areas still to be addressed, not just by the Metropolitan Police, but by police forces nationally.

“At the heart of their concerns remains a lack of personal accountability and responsibility in the Metropolitan Police.

“Of course, none of the issues identified in the report are a surprise. The families know them inside out, having had to live with them every day for over seven years.”

He added: “However, since the inquests, they have a level of vindication that was previously denied to them and feel closer to justice now than at any point since Anthony, Gabriel, Daniel and Jack were murdered.

“The fight though is far from over and they eagerly await the police response to this report.”

Speaking during a meeting of the London Assembly’s policing committee today, Dame Cressida said the jury’s finding was “devastating” and called the failings in the investigations a “matter of deep, deep regret”.

The commissioner said she has met three of the victims’ families and is about to meet with the fourth.

She added: “I have apologised to them from the bottom of my heart.”

And she told the committee that since the murders, the police have reviewed their suspicious deaths policy and now test for GHB in sexual assault cases.

Training for investigators has been improved, she said, including around the Port case specifically, and leadership structures are now also more closely “aligned”.