Stephen Port: How police told the Post there was ‘nothing suspicious’ about Barking churchyard deaths
- Credit: Archant
When a third body was found near St Margaret’s Church within weeks, the Post challenged the Met as to whether the men’s deaths were linked – and whether Barking was safe.
Right on deadline, the answer came back, with a detective telling a reporter it was “unusual but not suspicious” and there was nothing indicating the men had come to harm.
But today, more than two years later, Stephen Port was found guilty of murdering two of the men along with two others, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is probing the Met’s initial inquiry.
Ramzy Alwakeel – the news editor in 2014, when the bodies of Port’s victims Daniel Whitworth and Gabriel Kovari and another man were found in the graveyard of the Barking church – recalls being taken aback by the detective’s response and, in hindsight, is unsure why the police didn’t reveal more about the men’s shared background.
“We couldn’t have known they were gay but, had we realised, there’s no way we’d have let go after one story – it would’ve been blatantly obvious something was going on,” he said.
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“They [the police] didn’t know how one of them had died or why they were in Barking, so it seemed like there were an awful amount of unanswered questions they were unconcerned about.
“I didn’t think they were missing a serial killer, but it did seem like they were on shaky ground in their assertion there was nothing for the public to worry about when they knew so little. Now we know they were wrong.”
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Port, 41, was already known to police as the body of Mr Walgate had been found outside his flat in Cooke Street, Barking, a few months earlier. Mr Kovari had even been Port’s housemate.
Ramzy believes police might have explored the possibility their deaths had been sexually motivated sooner had three women been found instead of three gay men.
But he said Port’s semen found on a blanket near Mr Whitworth’s body should still have rung alarm bells.
“These cases involved a community that wasn’t well understood, a party drug and a dating app [Grindr] – it feels like it was too modern for the police,” he said. “It wasn’t something they could use their experience to suss out. It appears they just kind of said: ‘We don’t understand this but it’s probably fine.’
“My feeling – probably more as a gay man than a journalist – is that at whatever point it became clear to them the men were gay and that drugs had been involved, they dismissed the cases. How else can they justify having done so little investigation?
“They may have realised the men had had sex and had taken or been given GHB, but those facts seem to have shut down the investigation when in fact they were the smoking gun.”