IOPC to reinvestigate handling of Stephen Port murders
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is to reinvestigate the way the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) initially handled the deaths of four men in Barking, East London, who were murdered by serial killer Stephen Port.
Following the 2021 inquests into the deaths of Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth and Jack Taylor – which revealed previously unknown evidence – the IOPC said there is evidence that its original investigation into the conduct of officers was “materially flawed”. The inquests concluded that police failings “probably” contributed to the deaths of the three last victims, all of whom were unlawfully killed.
Regional Director Graham Beesley said: “Since the inquests concluded, an IOPC team has been closely examining the original investigation material and comparing it with the information and verbal accounts provided to the new inquests.
“Due to the size of the original investigation and the amount of information it obtained, this has been a complex task. This has been necessary to ensure the reinvestigation decision process was in line with legislation and that any subsequent decisions on reinvestigating were based on a thorough and robust examination of the information available.
“A matter can only be reinvestigated by the IOPC if we are satisfied that the original investigation was materially flawed in a manner which had an impact on the subsequent decisions made on discipline, performance and/or referral to the Crown Prosecution Service, and/or there is ‘significant new information’ that requires further investigation.
“There must be a real possibility that the new information, had it been available, would have led wholly or partly to different decisions on the outcomes of our investigation. Lastly, it must be considered in the public interest to reinvestigate.
“In this case, the reinvestigation process has identified evidence which meets both the significant new information and material flaw categories, and we believe a proportionate – but thorough – new investigation is in the public interest.
“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.
“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 enquiries were not followed. Had this information been known at the time it may have led to different decisions on outcomes.
“A new team has been appointed and they will decide the scale and scope of the new investigation.
“The reinvestigation decision does not necessarily mean that the entirety of the original investigation will be examined again, but it would not be appropriate to comment further on any future lines of enquiry at this stage.
“We recognise this process has taken some time to complete and I would like to thank everyone for their patience. Those who have been closely impacted by this decision, including the families of the young men, and the officers whose conduct was originally investigated were consulted regarding our decision and they have been regularly updated by the IOPC throughout this process, alongside a number of other key stakeholders.”
The MPS said they would offer “every support” to the fresh investigation.
The inquest jury found that officers in Barking missed repeated opportunities to catch Port after he plied his first victim, Mr Walgate, with a fatal dose of the 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.
Solicitor Neil Hudgell, speaking on behalf of the victims’ families, said the original IOPC report “was hindered by a wall of silence”, given that nearly all officers questioned gave “no-comment” interviews.
He said: “Our hope now is that the IOPC will have a lot more to go on. There remains a big question mark over whether police prejudice played a part in the investigations.”
“The inadequate investigations by the Metropolitan Police into the four deaths is one of the most widespread institutional failures in modern history, exacerbated by a woeful lack of remorse, regret or sympathy displayed at the inquests by some of the officers involved. Port was jailed for life, but the police have blood on their hands too. It is time for them to be held accountable.”
Port, now 47, a former bus depot chef, will die in prison after being handed a whole life sentence at the Old Bailey for the murders in 2014 and 2015, as well as a string of sex assaults.
MPS 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.
“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.”