Jurors could be quizzed over beliefs at inquest into deaths of Barking serial killer’s victims, court hears
PUBLISHED: 15:46 24 September 2020 | UPDATED: 15:46 24 September 2020
Potential jurors at an inquest into the deaths of four gay men in Barking could be quizzed about their beliefs and moral attitudes, a court has heard.
Judge Sarah Munro was asked at the Old Bailey today (September 24) to consider whether jurors should be questioned about their attitudes and beliefs during selection.
Stephen Port, now 45, was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment at the same court in November 2016 for the murders of Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth, Anthony Walgate and Jack Taylor.
All four were drugged with GHB and raped by Port before being dumped near his home in Cooke Street.
The original inquests into the deaths of Mr Kovari, 22, from Slovakia, and Mr Whitworth, 21, from Gravesend, were quashed following Port’s murder conviction.
The deaths of Mr Walgate, 23, from Hull, and Mr Taylor, 25, from Dagenham, were originally treated as non-suspicious.
Her Honour Judge Munro is due to preside over an inquest into all four deaths which is set to last eight weeks and include a jury. One focus is expected to be on possible police failings around why Port was not stopped sooner.
Counsel for the victims’ families want to limit the possibility of members of the jury being biased.
Paul Clark, acting for the victims’ families, alluded to the Equalities Act and said such a question was relevant in how jurors would consider whether there were “unjustified differences” in the way gay people were treated by police.
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However, Peter Skelton QC, representing the Met, argued there was no precedent for such a question to be put to jurors. “We see this as setting an unnecessary precedent,” he said.
That view was echoed by counsel representing individual officers involved in the investigations into Port’s killings.
Andrew O’Connor, counsel to the inquests, said he understood the concern, but reminded the court of the limited influence a judge has over the selection of jurors.
“It’s an important and sensitive issue and we must strive to make the right decision,” he said.
He recommended the matter be discussed again at a fourth pre-inquest review due on November 20.
Hearings into the deaths had been due to take place at the Old Bailey, but could be moved to Barking town hall to prevent delays and accommodate the number of people expected to attend.
Mr O’Connor explained: “The families prefer these hearings take place rather than be delayed again. The only practical way to make that happen is to move to Barking.”
The review also heard victims’ families want police disciplinary records shared.
Mr Skelton objected, but added that if his team felt any were relevant to the inquest they would be disclosed to Judge Munro.
Clair Dobbin, representing officers, said: “As a matter of general principle, conduct records are not relevant. If they are to be disclosed, there must be good reason.”
The inquest is due to start on January 7.
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