Serial killers go undetected because Met fails to carry out ‘even most basic enquiries’

Inspection triggered by ‘calamitous litany of failures’ in Grindr serial case warns of ongoing risk

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Editor
Friday 28 April 2023 09:56 BST
Related: Sadiq Khan welcomes decision to reinvestigate Met Police over Stephen Port case handling

Serial killers could go undetected because the Metropolitan Police does not always carry out “even the most basic enquiries”, a watchdog has warned in a damning new report.

A report triggered by failings that let Grindr murderer Stephen Port go free found that, eight years on, there is still a risk that police would miss links between deaths.

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) warned that “history could repeat itself” because the force had still not learned enough from “the calamitous litany of failures”.

Inspector Matt Parr told a press conference that “obviously suspicious” deaths were not linked in the Port case until he had struck again.

“If they're not suspicious enough about unexpected deaths in the first place, the chance of missing the odd isolated one, or indeed another serial killer, cannot be discounted,” he said.

The sisters of Port’s last victim, Jack Taylor, accused the Met of continuing to “put lives at risk”.

Donna and Jenny Taylor added: “Poor investigation and a failure to link similar crimes are the most basic of policing mistakes, and to hear that these kind of basic oversights continue to happen today is simply appalling. Once again, we just feel so badly let down.

“We’ve heard that procedures are changing and the way sudden deaths are classified has been changed, but what needs to change is attitudes. If officers don’t investigate with the right attitude, and don’t do the basics, these failings will keep happening, and it will cost more lives.”

Scotland Yard denied “institutional homophobia” following a damning inquest into Port’s victims, and a report triggered by the murder of Sarah Everard recently found institutional racism, sexism and homophobia in the force.

The wave of scandals and inquiries has sent public trust in the force plummeting, and commissioner Sir Mark Rowley admitted this week that it had missed a government recruitment target partly because of its “reputation at the moment”.

The HMIC report said that Boris Johnson’s drive to hire 20,000 extra officers in three years had “created an inexperienced workforce”, adding: “We are concerned that such officers are making crucial decisions when responding to a report of death.”

In 2022 alone, the Metropolitan Police received almost 11,000 death reports – around 30 per day – and investigated 86 per cent of them.

“Several officers told us that linking deaths at a local level relied, frankly, on luck,” Mr Parr said. “There is no formal process to spot the similarities to link deaths.”

HMIC said there is no pan-London approach to understanding or mapping deaths across the capital, adding: “We are especially concerned that deaths considered non-suspicious from the outset could be completely overlooked.”

Daniel Whitworth, Jack Taylor, Anthony Walgate and Gabriel Kovari were murdered during a 16-month period by Stephen Port
Daniel Whitworth, Jack Taylor, Anthony Walgate and Gabriel Kovari were murdered during a 16-month period by Stephen Port (PA)

The inspectorate found that searches for intelligence on the Police National Database searches were not routinely carried out after all unexpected deaths, and that there were “basic omissions” in records.

“Written witness statements, if taken at all, tended to be too brief and lacked important details,” the report said.

“There was little evidence that officers completed house-to-house enquiries, took steps to establish the time of death or tried to find out who may have had access to the premises where the deceased person was found.”

Mr Parr said that investigation reports seen by inspectors included some where “potentially vital evidence” such as drugs and suspicious injuries were only discovered in the mortuary, and one where the pockets of a deceased person had not been searched.

In Port’s case, he targeted victims on gay dating websites, then drugged and raped them used the “date rape” drug GHB.

He was not caught for 15 months after his first murder despite “obvious similarities” between the victims’ deaths, because investigators classed them as non-suspicious and did not treat Port as a suspect – even after interviewing him when a body was found outside his flat.

HMIC found that while homophobia may have played a role in the failings, they were predominantly driven by inadequate intelligence and crime analysis processes, confusing policies, “unacceptable” record-keeping and death reports and poor supervision and training.

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

The report said that in the Port case, police had “failed to carry out even the most basic enquiries”, treating each case in isolation and finding that his victims had died of a “self-administered drug overdose”.

It said that it was only through the persistence of Port’s victims’ families, who uncovered the links themselves, that he was eventually caught.

Port was given a whole-life order in 2016 for the murders of Anthony Walgate, 23, Gabriel Kovari, 22, and Daniel Whitworth, 21, and Jack Taylor, 25, between June 2014 and September 2015.

The watchdog found that although the case had triggered improvements in training, guidance and working arrangements between local officers and specialist murder teams, more needed to be done and made 20 recommendations.

“Issues with the Met’s culture and officers’ behaviour have been widely recognised,” Mr Parr said.

“However, the Met’s problems with competence and professionalism run even deeper: too often, they don’t get the basics right.”

The inspectorate warned that although the report was into the Metropolitan Police, all forces should use the report to examine their own death investigations.

Scotland Yard, which remains in special measures, accepted it had “more to do to minimise the chance of a case like this ever happening again” and said it would address all recommendations.

Assistant Commissioner 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 … our death investigation policy is sound, now it’s about turning policy into effective practice.”

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