Stephen Port inquests: Police 'failed to follow up leads'

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

Clockwise from top left: Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth, Jack Taylor and Anthony Walgate. - Credit: Met Police

Police failed to follow up two different leads that could have led them to Barking serial killer Stephen Port before his last two victims died, an inquest has heard.

Port, now 46, will be in jail for the rest of his life after killing Anthony Walgate, 23, Gabriel Kovari, 22, Daniel Whitworth, 21, and Jack Taylor, 25, between June 2014 and September 2015.

Inquests are being held into the men’s deaths to determine whether lives could have been saved had police acted differently.

Mr Kovari was found dead in the graveyard of St Margaret's Church on August 28 2014, while Mr Whitworth was found just over three weeks later on September 20.

Inquest jurors at Barking Town Hall on Tuesday heard that investigators were told after Mr Kovari’s death that his boyfriend Thierry Amodio had received messages from a man called Jon Luck claiming to have had sex with him before he died.

Mr Kovari had also sent photos and the address of Port’s flat to a friend called Carl, explaining that he was staying there.

Henrietta Hill QC, for the men’s families, told Acting Detective Inspector Rolf Schamberger, who supervised the investigations into Mr Kovari and Mr Whitworth’s deaths, that had the leads been followed up Port could have been caught earlier.

She said: “If the police had either followed up who Jon Luck was or followed up who Carl was, either one of those routes would have taken them to Stephen Port before Daniel died. Do you understand?”

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Mr Schamberger replied: “Yes, I understand.”

Port planted a fake suicide note on Mr Whitworth’s body, falsely confessing to the murder of Mr Kovari in order to cover his tracks.

But the jury heard that the similarities between the deaths of first victim fashion student Mr Walgate, who was found outside Port’s flat on June 19 2014, and Mr Kovari and Mr Whitworth should have aroused the suspicions of police.

As well as this, Ms Hill outlined a series of failings by investigators, including:

– Failing to carry out key forensic tests including on the bed sheet on which Mr Whitworth was found, his clothes, so-called sex swabs taken from his body, the drugs bottle planted on him, and Mr Kovari’s sunglasses.

– Failing to properly examine Mr Kovari’s social media accounts to see if friends could provide useful information

– Not obtaining full phone data that would have shown Mr Whitworth was not in Barking on the night of Mr Kovari’s death

– Failing to properly verify the handwriting on the fake suicide note

– Failing to follow up information provided by the men’s loved ones about their movements before their deaths

The inquests heard that three detective constables had “batted away” concerns raised by friends and family that the deaths of Mr Walgate, Mr Kovari and Mr Whitworth may be linked.

Stephen Port was sentenced to life in prison in 2016 for the murders of the four men.

Stephen Port was sentenced to life in prison in 2016 for the murders of four men. - Credit: Met Police

Ms Hill asked the witness: “Your team ignored sensible suggestions from members of the public that there was a link, isn’t that right?”

Mr Schamberger replied: “It definitely seems that way.”

She went on: “Every single one of those members of the public had cracked this in a way that none of you had.”

He answered: “Those links ultimately were true.”

Ms Hill said: “They were all right, and you were all wrong.”

Mr Schamberger said: “We had not considered them.”

He admitted that there had been “shocking failings” in the investigations, that were “significantly incompetent”.

Ms Hill put to him: “Had any one or any combination of these failings not occurred, Jack Taylor would not have been killed?”

He replied: “That is very possible.”

The officer then apologised for the failings, saying: “It’s hugely regrettable and I’m very sorry for how things transpired.

“It must have been very difficult for those involved to try to come to terms with very difficult facts that then turned out not to be the case.”

The jury had earlier heard that Mr Schamberger felt the way teams were working was not safe because they were so understaffed.

Under questioning by his own counsel, Hugh Davies QC, he said that in 2014 he was based in a specialist safeguarding unit and lacked experience leading other kinds of investigations.

Despite this, and the fact that he had only received training to investigate less serious crimes than homicide, he was asked to act up as a detective inspector on September 15, 2014.

His workload already included dealing with dozens of high-risk cases such as missing persons and serious domestic violence before he additionally took on the acting detective inspector role, the court heard.

Detective Sergeant Debbie Turrell, who was the family liaison coordinator in Barking, said she could not remember whether or not she did anything with the information from Mr Amodio about “Jon Luck”, one of Port’s pseudonyms created in an effort to mislead the police investigation.

Ms Turrell, who is now retired, also said she could not remember why her investigation did not reflect information from Ricky Waumsley, Mr Whitworth’s boyfriend, that the victim was likely at home the night he was supposed to have killed Mr Kovari, according to the fake suicide note.

She also denied lacking professional curiosity about a bedsheet found under Mr Whitworth, which later was revealed to carry Port’s DNA profile.

She agreed there was a serious set of failures of follow-up on lines of inquiry.

The inquests continue.