Stephen Port gay serial killings: Police failings exposed

Officers failed to warn & liaise with the LGBT community

Vital lines of enquiry not pursued. Police best practice guidance ignored

London, UK – 23 November 2016

Human rights advocate Peter Tatchell monitored the police handling of the serial killings of young gay men in east London from October 2014 and liaised with a friend of one of the victims, Gabriel Kovari.

Commenting on jury’s guilty verdict and the way police responded to the multiple murders by Stephen Port, he said:

“While timely and commendable, this verdict is no compensation for the loss of four young gay men who had their lives, hopes and dreams cut short.

“Appallingly, even after the third murder the police were still maintaining that the deaths were ‘unusual’ but ‘not suspicious.’ They did not issue a public alert to the gay community that a serial killer could be on the loose. This failing ignored Met Police best practice advice which was agreed two decades ago, after previous murders of gay men.

“The police appeal for public information came in October 2015 – a year too late. Four young men were already dead. This appeal should have been made in August 2014 after the first two killings. If the police had done this, further deaths may have been prevented. Two of these men might still be alive.

“The police let Stephen Port slip though their fingers. He was arrested after the body of Anthony Walgate was found in June 2014 and was later jailed for perverting the course of justice in relation to his death. Astonishingly, officers accepted at face value Port’s explanations concerning the death of Walgate.

“Police failed to adequately check the hand-writing on the fake Daniel Whitworth suicide note, which had been penned by Port to cover up the murder. As far as we know, there was no thorough finger-print and DNA testing of the note, which may have led direct to Port, given that he had been previously arrested and imprisoned for untruths about his links with Walgate.

“Concerns were raised with the police at the time three by friends of two of the victims, Gabriel Kovari and Anthony Walgate, but were ignored. The men’s friends say they felt fobbed off by the police.

“To have three young men found dead in public places in mysterious, unexplained circumstances – all within a few hundred yards of each other and within the space of three months – should have triggered alarm bells.

“From the outset, the police investigation fell far short of thorough and robust.

“The police mishandling of the Stephen Port murders echo their previous failings in other serial killings of gay men, including those by Dennis Nilson, Michael Lupo and Colin Ireland. The lessons from those sub-standard investigations have still not been learned.

“If four young middle class women had been murdered in Mayfair, I believe the police would have made a public appeal much sooner and mounted a far more comprehensive investigation. The killing of low income gay men in working class Barking was treated very differently. Police officers stand accused of class, gender and sexuality bias.

“I am glad there is an IPCC inquiry into what went wrong, including why the police failed to connect the dots and seek the help of the LGBT community after the first two killings of these young gay men.

“A friend of Gabriel Kovari, John, told me in October 2014 that he had contacted the police after the first three murders, to express his concern about Gabriel’s death and that of the other two men. Anxious for his own safety, he mentioned the possibility that it was murder and that the three deaths might be linked. The police advised him that there was nothing to worry about; suggesting that the deaths were not murders and not connected. After initial contact with the police, he heard nothing back from them. He said he tried to get updated information from the officers but claims it was very difficult. The police struck him as not interested and not helpful.

“In October 2014, I advised John to contact Pink News and the gay police monitoring group, GALOP, with a request that they press the police for answers. They did so, but were told by officers that it was not foul play and there was no serial killer.

“John also raised his concerns at the inquest into Gabriel’s death. But these concerns were dismissed. He told me that he did not have confidence in the police handling of the killings from late 2014. He felt the police were not taking the odd, unexplained deaths seriously. He was right.

“Kiera and China, friends of Anthony Walgate, were also given the brush off by the police, who they said were ‘unhelpful and unsympathetic.’”

“Although police relations with the LGBT community are vastly better than two decades ago, this case is a wake-up call regarding the on-going inadequate attitudes and behaviour of some officers in some police districts,” said Mr Tatchell.