A senior police official has said it’s possible that a case like that of Stephen Port “could happen again.”
Matt Parr CB of His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) made the comments during a press briefing on Thursday (27 April).
It came ahead of a report into the Metropolitan Police Service’s (MPS) response to lessons from the Stephen Port murders.
Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth, and Jack Taylor were all in their early 20s when they died of GHB overdoses administered by Port in his East London home between June 2014 and September 2015.
Port was found guilty of murder in 2016 and given a whole-life tariff, meaning he will never be released from prison.
Speaking to the press on Thursday Parr also said it was “entirely possible,” that had the MPS carried out a thorough investigation after Anthony Walgate’s death the other three would still be alive.
The report described the MPS’s response to each of the four men’s deaths as “reprehensible.”
Officers investigating treated each case as an isolated incident despite the fact that each man was found in almost identical circumstances.
Pinpointing this as the “catalysts for many of the failings that followed,” the HMICFRS said that it isn’t confident that the MPS has addressed this.
“It is difficult to be reassured that the mistakes made in the Port case couldn’t happen again”
The report lists five particular issues that have arisen from the HMICFRS’ inspection. These are poor training, poor oversight, unacceptable record keeping, confusing policy and guidance, and inadequate intelligence and crime analysis networks between police units and boroughs.
The inspection found that officers responding to reports of death had little to no experience in some cases. The same people were also having to make big decisions with poor supervision. Supervising sergeants were found to be “too busy” a lot of the time and lacking in meaningful reviews of reports.
IT systems could benefit from a single, easy-to-use system across the whole police force, Parr noted. Records were also found to be poor and omitting major and even basic details. Guidance documents on responding to reports of a death were also numerous and confusing. A single, universal one has been advised
HMICFRS then disparaged, “the most challenging question for us to answer is whether events like these could happen again. History and the findings of this inspection tell us that they will.”
It added: “It is difficult to be reassured that the mistakes made in the Port case couldn’t happen again.”
“Impossible to reach any definitive conclusions”
Parr confirmed to journalists that whether homophobia was not a part of the inspection’s remit. Families of the victims have long contended homophobia played a part in the initial investigations.
It was “impossible to reach any definitive conclusions” on whether homophobia played a role, Parr said. He reiterated the five aforementioned issues are “the primary explanation for the MPS’s flawed investigations.”
Meanwhile, the report also recognised that the MPS has made efforts to make connections with LGBTQ advisors.
Parr also recognised that the families of Port’s victims were “shoddily treated” by the MPS. It was the families’ heroism and determination that helped reach a guilty verdict for Port.
The HMICFRS’ report comes a month after the damning Casey review. It found that the MPS is riddled with “institutional racism, sexism, and homophobia.”
Baroness Louise Casey of Blackstock DBE CB’s review polled more than 1,200 Londoners. 52% of LGBTQ+ Londoners feel underrepresented in the MPS.
Casey noted public support for the police had fallen “at a faster rate than other Londoners over the last seven years.”
After the review, Jack Taylor’s sisters, Donna and Jenny, called for a public inquiry.
“The scale of the task is becoming clear”
Recognising the Stephen Port case as “one of too many” incidents to have led to a drop in support, Parr told Attitude that the inspection had found a “palpable difference” in the MPS now compared to 18 months ago.
“The scale of the task is becoming clear,” Parr continued on the changing culture at the MPS. “And you’re turning around a force that’s got [an] enormous number of problems – basic professionalism and expertise and the quality and the attitude of a lot of its officers being amongst them.”
He warned there’d be “more bad news about the Met and policing in general before it starts to turn around.”
He said people had to stick with the idea of ‘policing by consent’ despite the obvious controversies.
The report has made 20 recommendations across six categories: clarifying policy and guidance, improving training, improving intelligence networks, reviewing local forensic support to help officers, improving how investigations are overseen and how families are liaised with, and improving links with charities and services to help bereaved families.
A 2021 inquest found that failings by the Met “probably” contributed to Kovari, Taylor, and Whitworth’s deaths. A jury said police had “missed opportunities” in the first three investigations.
Despite the claims of the victims’ families, Coroner Sarah Munro ruled out homophobia as an issue in the case.
Following the inquest, the Independent Office for Police Conduct said a “new investigation is in the public interest.”
The inquest also led to the commissioning of HMICFRS’ inspection in 2021.
In a statement, Assistant Commissioner of HMICFRS Louisa Rolfe said: “The deaths of Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth and Jack Taylor were a tragedy and we are sincerely sorry we failed them and their families. While, as the inspection report acknowledges, we have worked hard since the murders to understand what went wrong and improve how we work, it highlights more we need to do.
“We have to get the basics right. That’s around how we train and support our officers to investigate deaths, identify suspicious circumstances and understand how protected characteristics may impact on those investigations.
“Our death investigation policy is sound, now it’s about turning policy into effective practice. To do this we have reviewed and updated our training for frontline officers and have begun a programme of enhanced training for their supervisors.
“We are also moving quickly on family liaison. We know we fell short in this case and the families did not get the service they needed or deserved. It is important we look again at this area to see what more we need to do to support families through such difficult times.”