Coroner promises a 'full, fair, and fearless' inquest into the deaths of Stephen Port's victims
PUBLISHED: 14:33 05 July 2019 | UPDATED: 09:28 08 July 2019
A judge has vowed that the inquest into the deaths of the four men murdered by Stephen Port will put the victims' families at its heart.
Her Honour Judge Sarah Munro QC, assistant coroner for east London, said: "My priority this morning is to express my condolences to the families both present an absent.
"May I emphasize at this early stage that the families will be at the heart of this inquest.
"I will conduct a full, fair, and fearless inquest."
At a pre inquest hearing at the Old Bailey today it emerged that Stephen Port had a legal entitlement to appear at the inquest.
Dr Anton van Dellen, acting for the partner of one of the victims, said the families had very grave concerns about Port's participation.
"A jury has disbelieved Mr Port. I struggle to see what he would add other than disruption and upset," Dr van Dellen said.
However, Judge Munro said it was premature at this stage to discuss his participation because it wasn't known whether Port wanted to take up what he is entitled to by law.
On the scope of the inquest, counsel to the original inquests, Andrew O'Connor, submitted that the focus of the inquest should be the adequacy of the police investigation into Port.
But he added the inquest was unlikely to call up extensive evidence related to the circumstances of the four deaths but that such details should be submitted in a summary form.
On whether a jury should sit during the inquest, Mr O'Connor said by law it was at the judge's discretion whether a jury should sit.
It could also be necessary to call a jury if the coroner were to decide that a death resulted from the involvement of a police officer, the court heard.
Judge Munro took charge last month of the inquest into the deaths of Jack Taylor, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth and Anthony Walgate.
The four men were murdered by Port, of Cooke Street, Barking, between August 2014 and September 2015.
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Their families said previously that they hope the new inquest will expose the catalogue of failings by Scotland Yard which allowed the 44-year-old chef to keep killing.
A pre-inquest review - adjourned from November last year - started today at the Old Bailey.
It is examining, among other things, the scope of the inquest, the witnesses to be called, whether a jury will be appointed and where the hearings will be held.
Initial inquests into the deaths of Mr Kovari, 22, who was originally from Slovakia, and Mr Whitworth, 21, from Gravesend, recorded an open verdict.
These took place in 2015, before police linked their deaths to those of Mr Taylor, 25, from Dagenham, and Mr Walgate, 23, from Hull.
They were quashed by the High Court after Port was jailed for life for the murders and 22 sexual offences against 11 men.
On whether the original inquest or conduct of Nadia Persaud, the senior coroner who carried out the first inquest into Mr Kovari and Mr Whitworth's deaths should be investigated as part of Judge Munro's inquest, Mr O'Connor said it would not be lawful to do so.
"Those inquests have been quashed so there is nothing left to look at," he said.
He added that it was a fallacy that coroners have an investigative function which Judge Munro could investigate and that she was not entitled to address this by law.
Representing the families, Paul Clark argued that Judge Munro would not be able to fully conduct the inquest without examining Ms Persaud's role.
During the Old Bailey trial in 2016, the court heard how Port stalked his victims online and plied them with drinks spiked with fatal doses of GHB.
He then dumped their bodies in or near St Margaret's Church in Barking.
Port had been jailed for lying about his involvement in the first murder - that of Mr Walgate - only to later be released. This left him free to strike again.
While on bail before the sentencing for lying, Port murdered twice more, then once again after his release from prison.
He was jailed for life in November 2016.