Top cop in charge of investigation into death of Barking serial killer’s first victim should be represented in inquest, court hears

Stephen Port

Stephen Port - Credit: Archant

The top cop in charge on the night a serial killer’s first victim was found wants legal representation during fresh inquests.

Stephen Port took the lives of clockwise from top left: Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth, Jack Taylo

Stephen Port took the lives of clockwise from top left: Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth, Jack Taylor and Anthony Walgate. Picture credit: Met Police. - Credit: Archant

Det Supt Mike Hamer led the Met’s initial response following the discovery of Anthony Walgate’s body outside killer Stephen Port’s flat in Cooke Street, Barking, in June, 2014.

Port, 45, was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment at the Old Bailey in November 2016 for the murders of Mr Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth and Jack Taylor.

All four gay men were drugged with GHB and raped by Port before being dumped near his home.

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.

However, Judge Sarah Munro is to preside over an inquest into all four deaths due to start in January in front of a jury at Barking Town Hall.

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At the fifth and final Old Bailey pre-inquest review on November, Nicola Howard QC argued that Det Supt Hamer played a “pivotal” role in the weeks following Mr Walgate’s death.

He was in command of the officers who discovered Mr Walgate’s body in Cooke Street on the night of June 19, 2014.

Ms Howard said: “[Det Supt Hamer’s role] was for a relatively short duration, but it did deal with possibly the most critical period of time.”

Det Supt Hamer “set the path” along which the investigation would travel and was in charge of the investigation into Port “from the outset”, the court heard.

During the two week-long period the former deputy borough commander was in charge, Port was convicted of perverting the course of justice. Evidence linking him to the killing was missed at that time.

Ms Howard explained that the murders of Mr Kovari and Mr Whitworth happened while Port was on bail.

She argued her client’s actions “may be under some considerable scrutiny” at the inquest besides any issues surrounding the Met’s handling of the case.

This could include whether the investigation was affected by “prejudice or lack of understanding”.

Det Supt Hamer would be left in a “difficult situation” if “shortcomings” in the investigation were attributable to senior officers and he was not granted a right to legal representation at the inquest, Ms Howard argued.

Jurors would also be left with an “unbalanced picture”, she warned, saying that if Det Supt Hamer is not represented, others might try to “push responsibility and blame to his door”.

Andrew O’Connor, representing the inquests, told the court the fact Det Supt Hamer’s conduct might be criticised during the course of the inquests is “relevant”, but not could not determine the question of his status at the inquest.

Mr O’Connor, addressing Judge Munro, said: “The question for you is whether, on the evidence available, Superintendent Hamer’s conduct in those two weeks in late June 2014 may have shaped the Walgate investigation in a way that had a causative effect on the later deaths.

“In our submission, the answer to that question is no.”

Ms Howard argued that her client had been forced to seek the status of an interested person after the Met’s director of legal services told him there was a potential for conflict and he should get his own legal advice.

Det Supt Hamer was also told the same by a law firm representing some of the investigating officers.

It is Det Supt Hamer’s second attempt to gain interested person status after his initial application was turned down in July.

Judge Munro is expected to rule on the issue early next week. A decision as to whether potential jurors can be asked about their religious beliefs has also yet to be made.

The inquest is expected to last for two months and is scheduled to start on January 7.