The Metropolitan Police was told about concerns within the gay community about a serial killer on the loose in east London ten months before the force launched a murder inquiry into the deaths of four young men, it can be revealed.
Website PinkNews contacted Scotland Yard after being alerted by a friend of one of the victims in December last year but was told there was “nothing suspicious” about the deaths of three young men in four months, all found in a small area of Barking.
Chef Stephen Port, 40, was arrested last week and goes before an Old Bailey judge for the first time on 21 October charged with those murders and the killing of a fourth young man in September this year.
The Metropolitan Police only linked the four deaths last week and has referred its handling of the allegations to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. It followed complaints by the mother of the first alleged victim, Anthony Walgate, 23, that the “police have shown our family no compassion whatsoever” following his death in June last year.
The body of the art and fashion student – who moved from his home in Hull to Barnet to study - was found on the street where Mr Port lived in Barking, east London.
“It is appalling. We have had to chase them for information,” Sarah Sak told the Hull Daily Mail in March. “I keep telling people that had it happened in Hull, we would have known by now what happened.”
The detective in charge of handling three three similar deaths in two months in Barking, east London, including those of Mr Port’s alleged second and third victim, Gabriel Kovari, 22, and Daniel Whitworth, 21, described the cases as “unusual and slightly confusing”.
DCI Tony Kirk told a local newspaper in September last year that “none of them have got any injuries or anything that would say to us ‘yes, they have come to harm’. This is the issue we need to look into.”
The pair were both found by the same dog walker within the grounds of St Margaret’s Church, Barking, within a month of each other in August and September 2014. An inquest in June heard that Mr Whitworth was holding a note in which he apparently took responsibility for Mr Kovari’s death. It is understood forensic tests are continuing into the note.
Police were contacted by Nick Duffy, the UK Editor of PinkNews, at the turn of the year because of concerns expressed by Mr Kovari’s former flatmate, who was aware that the artist had been meeting other men using the gay dating app Grindr.
Mr Duffy said he was first made aware of allegations of a link between a number of the deaths in December 2014 and he made inquiries over the next month.
He said: “At the time, the Metropolitan Police were treating the deaths as separate incidents with “nothing suspicious” to link them, and were not looking for anyone else in connection with them. PinkNews took the decision not to print a story about the claims.”
The final alleged murder attributed to Mr Port – who is accused of drugging and killing his victims with the date rape drug known as GHB – of forklift driver Jack Taylor, 25, came about nine months after the force was contacted by the news website.
Scotland Yard said that it was considering a wider appeal through the gay community for information about Mr Port, who has been charged with four counts of murder and four of administering a poison with intent to endanger life or inflict grievous bodily harm over a period of 15 months. It declined to comment further about circumstances that are likely to form part of any inquiry by the police watchdog.
Meanwhile, the elderly father of Mr Port said he had taken books and money for his son at the police station where he was held on Sunday night but had not spoken to him since.
Albert Port, 73, said: “We just want to keep out of the way, because of our ages. We just can't take it. The less we know the better. We have got to carry on. We are old now. We just can't take much more.”