As the case of the gay serial killer shows, our inept police forces are failing to serve modern Britain

The police might not be comfortable with the popularity of Grindr and other apps that facilitate casual sex, but they have a duty to protect every citizen and not judge different lifestyles

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The Independent Online

An astonishing series of cock-ups by police failed to spot key similarities in the brutal deaths of four young men, all of whom had met their killer through gay dating sites and been given (almost certainly without their knowledge) an overdose of the drug GBH, which rendered them unconscious before they were raped and murdered. The victims, all under 25, were the normal fresh-faced kids you see on the underground every day, up for a spot of casual sex and a bit of fun.

I make no judgement about their lifestyle, but it’s hard not to conclude that the police – in spite of carrying banners and participating in LGBT marches in recent years – still have a long way to go when it comes to dealing with gay victims of crime.

Had Stephen Port targeted young women working in an office in a posh neighbourhood, rather than a trainee chef or a student who chose to hang out in the rougher environment of east London, I am sure that these murders would have received far more attention and a crack team of detectives. Instead, the family of the fourth victim turned investigators and had to force the police to look again at the similarities between these unexplained deaths.

There were numerous links: the murderer dumped all the bodies by dragging them out of his flat and dumping them nearby, two in the same churchyard in Barking. Police ignored bruising on one of the bodies which indicated it could have been moved, and a bottle containing GHB next to one of the bodies was never sent for DNA tests. They didn’t even bother to check that the fake suicide note in the hands of one of the victims was in his handwriting – it had been clumsily concocted by Port, who was finally arrested 15 months after the first murder. No wonder LGBT rights activist Peter Tatchell has said “the police stand accused of class, gender and sexuality bias”.

Serial killer Stephen Port to spend rest of life in jail for murders of four men

This level of gross ineptitude is baffling. Just as in the Stephen Lawrence and Damilola Taylor cases, vital evidence has been ignored over and over again. In those instances, the police stood accused of institutional racism and promised to change their attitude. Now, they stand accused of “institutional homophobia”. The LGBT community is rightly angry that many police appear assume that gay men using dating sites get what’s coming to them.

A couple of years ago, my hairdresser met a man while visiting the Midlands. During their encounter he took GHB. The next day, my friend vanished. It took several days before his body was found on moorland; he had died of exposure, only a short distance from a town, probably because the drug had made him disorientated and he had gone for a walk in his underwear. How a society hairdresser ends up in a ditch semi-naked is a tragic story, apocryphal in some ways – but adults who take drugs and have encounters with total strangers are only exercising their right to behave how they like behind closed doors.

The police might not be comfortable with the popularity of Grindr and other apps that facilitate casual sex, but they have a duty to protect every citizen and not judge different lifestyles.

One of the reasons for police failings in the case of Port – eventually convicted of 22 offences against 11 men – could be the lack of sympathetic people working within the Met, both in investigation and in police intelligence. A damning report this week highlights further failures in policing in London: a review carried out by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary looked at case files involving child abuse and exploitation, and found that in 95 per cent of cases the police response was “inadequate or required improvement”. The review found “fundamental deficiencies” and concluded the force was “more focused on burglary and vehicle theft than child protection”.

It’s not just the Met. The police in Rotherham failed time and time again to spot all the signs of young girls being abused, groomed and fed drugs, scared of offending the ethnic community. Many senior police believed that the girls were “willing”, refusing to accept they were victims. Now, many of the team who worked on the Port case are being investigated themselves, and the Met is looking again at the deaths of 58 gay men in London in the last four years. If a single one turns out to be linked to Port, then the Met itself has a huge case to answer.

In a city like London, the police force has to protect all citizens, and its workforce must reflect all the communities it serves.