The conviction of Stephen Port for the murder of four young men has raised a number of questions over the Metropolitan Police’s investigation into the deaths. The police failed to link the deaths of the men, two of whom were found in the same place in a Barking Graveyard a few weeks apart. The police also failed to properly investigate the earlier case of student Daniel Walgate, who was found dead outside Port’s flat.
Port was questioned by police, but his explanation that Walgate had taken drugs and died and that, in a panic, Port had put him outside of his flat, was accepted. Police only considered charging Port for perverting the course of justice.
During his trial it was revealed that friends and family of the victims, the local newspaper for the area and the website Pink News had all tried to find out more about the deaths of the men, believing there could be a connection. The Metropolitan Police has said 17 police officers are now under investigation. It seems clear that homophobia played a negative role in the investigation; police saw that deaths as isolated drug overdoses, and in the case of two of the victims, a sex game gone wrong which had killed one and driven the other to suicide.
The body of Daniel Whitworth which was left in the same place as Gabriel Kovari’s had a “suicide note” with it. This note expressed regret for the death of Kovari due to drugs taken during sex and said guilt had driven Whitworth to end his life. But the note made no mention of any family or friends. It also said, “BTW, please do not blame the guy I was with last night, we only had sex, then I left. He knows nothing of what I have done.” The note was treated at face value despite the family questioning the hand writing and other information that they did not feel amounted to a coherent story. People connected to the victims contacted Galop, the anti-LGBT-violence organisation, who contacted the police, only to be told there was no connection between the deaths. Only after a police officer recognised Port with his final victim, Jack Taylor, in CCTV footage, was Port finally arrested and his flat properly searched.
Despite the coroner recording an open verdict in the death of Daniel Whitworth and requesting that the items found on his body should be tested, this was not done until Port had murdered again. Throughout, the police had access to Port’s DNA, yet none of the items found on the victims, including Port’s own bed sheet used to wrap the body of Daniel Whitworth, were checked against his record.
Port met his victims using websites and social media like FitLads and Grindr. The police have a terrible record of not treating crimes seriously when they have occurred after an arrangement for casual sex has been made. The view seems to be that if strangers engage in casual sex they should accept the risks. Attitudes like this cost these young men their lives. A public appeal for information was made following Port being charged, but for the 15 months that he was attacking young men no warning was put out in Barking or East London.
Following his arrest others have come foward to say they met Port and found themselves unwittingly drugged and raped or assaulted. Port has now also been convicted of drugging seven other men. But there are a further 58 unexplained deaths on record and these are all now being reinvestigagted.
For those involved in sex work there is an added stigma to reporting the kinds of crimes Port perpetrated — Port offered Daniel Walgate payment to stay with him. They face threat of not being taken seriously, being prosecuted or just judged by the police by their own twisted morality that devalues sex workers and criminalises their work. The police should not be allowed to police our bodily autonomy and the choices we make in our sex lives. The growing culture of chem-sex, an undoubtedly high risk activity, cannot be used as a cover to dismiss the complaints of victims of sexual violence or to treat victims as culpable for the crimes that are committed against them.