Stephen Port victims' inquests: Senior officer denies ‘unconscious bias’
Emily Pennink PA Old Bailey Correspondent
- Credit: Met Police
A senior police officer has denied “unconscious bias” in the handling of the investigation into Barking serial killer Stephen Port’s first victim.
Port, will spend the rest of his life behind bars for sexually assaulting a number of victims and murdering four men - Anthony Walgate, 23, Gabriel Kovari, 22, Daniel Whitworth, 21, and Jack Taylor, 25 - with overdoses of GHB between June 2014 and September 2015.
He dumped their bodies near his flat in Cooke Street.
Her Honour Judge Sarah Munro QC is leading long-awaited inquests into the deaths at Barking Town Hall.
Giving evidence at the inquest this week, Det Ch Insp Chris Jones attended the scene of Anthony Walgate’s death on June 19, 2014, when the 23-year-old was found "propped" against a wall outside Port’s flat.
Having classified it as “unexplained” rather than “suspicious”, Mr Jones determined the case should be dealt with by borough officers rather than his specialist homicide team.
However, Mr Jones was not aware at the time of “inconsistencies” around the time of death or that the man who called 999 was a suspected rapist, he said.
Giving evidence at the inquests into Port’s four victims, Mr Jones - who has since retired - denied there was “bias” because the victim was a young gay man and his death potentially involved drugs.
He said: “I cannot accept for one minute there is any bias in the approach to the investigation into the death of Anthony Walgate."
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After making an anonymous 999 call just after 4am, Port claimed to police that the victim had “gurgled” before he moved him.
But medics called to the scene noted the body was cold and stiff, suggesting he had been dead for up to eight hours, the inquest heard.
In the course of identifying the caller, officers discovered Port had an allegation of rape recorded against him on the Police National Computer.
Andrew O’Connor QC, counsel for the coroner, added Mr Walgate had no mobile phone or wallet on him and had been “propped” up in a strange position.
He asked Mr Jones: “If you had been made aware of an inconsistency, Anthony ‘gurgling’ at 4am, and information from the ambulance man and doctor suggesting that could not have been right… Would that have altered your view?”
Mr Jones replied: “I think if a view had been expressed that the time of death had been prior or significantly prior to what is being presented by Stephen Port then that would be incredibly important.
“I think it is likely the death would have remained unexplained but the profile of Stephen Port would have been raised and specific questions around time of death could have been taken into the special post mortem process.”
Mr Jones added it would have been “helpful” to have been told of the previous allegation of rape against Port when he attended the scene on June 19.
One of the officers recorded there was “nothing to suggest the victim had been assaulted”, despite bruising under Mr Walgate’s arms.
Mr Jones agreed that had been “wrong”.
The witness was asked about a request later in June 2014 for the case to be taken over from borough officers – which was refused.
In an email setting out the argument, a senior borough officer wrote that Mr Walgate “died at the hands of another” on the balance of probabilities.
Mr O’Connor said: “There is evidence Stephen Port had not only found the body on the Thursday morning but he had actually arranged to meet Anthony two days earlier and that he had withheld information.
“And there is evidence that he had a previous allegation of rape.
“Both those matters were known to you by then. Don’t those matters amount to a reason to classify this case as suspicious and therefore HAT (homicide assessment team) to take primacy?”
Mr Jones replied: “The conduct of Stephen Port was concerning but it was still my view that on the information I knew from the scene, from the post mortem, that the matter did not cross the threshold for transferring to the homicide command.”
The jury inquest at Barking Town Hall is examining the competence and adequacy of the police investigation and whether Port could have been caught sooner.