Serial killer investigation blunders lead to reforms

Stephen Port victims clockwise from top left: Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth, Jack Taylor and Ant

Stephen Port's victims clockwise from top left: Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth, Jack Taylor and Anthony Walgate - Credit: Met Police

Failings over how the deaths of a Barking serial killer's victims were classified have led to police reforms across the country. 

Senior police officials are changing the way unexplained deaths are investigated following the inquest for victims of Barking serial killer and rapist Stephen Port. 

In January this year, a coroner’s report on the deaths of Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth and Jack Taylor identified a “large number of very serious and very basic investigative failings” by police, including a “lack of professional curiosity” about their cases.

The report, by Sarah Munro QC, also expressed concern over how deaths are classified as “unexplained” rather than suspicious.

On April 19, the Metropolitan Police and the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) responded, saying they have formed four new classifications “to provide absolute clarity" when police respond to deaths. 

These are “expected deaths” – where there is a medical diagnosis; “unexpected death investigated and not suspicious” – where evidence shows “no third party involvement”; an “unexpected death under investigation” – where further investigation is required; and “homicide” – where it is likely there was third party involvement.

The Met aims to embed the changes across the force by June 30.

Mr Kovari’s death was classed as “unexplained but not suspicious” within five hours of his body being discovered, despite an inspector later admitting they had no idea how he had died. 

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And Mr Whitworth’s death was classed as non-suspicious on the day he was found, even though investigators had not properly checked that a fake suicide note found with his body was genuine.

The letter had been planted by Port, falsely claiming that Daniel had accidentally killed Gabriel, when in fact the two did not know each other and were not together on the night Mr Kovari died.

Families of the four men believed that homophobia played a part in the failings.

While Ms Munro did not make her own finding on the issue, she said she agreed with a report by the Independent Office for Police Conduct that suggested “the possibility of assumptions being made about the lifestyle of young gay men and the potential vulnerability of men cannot be ignored, and may reveal that intersectionality was present in policing in 2014/2015, and may still be”.