Police say they regret taking more than a year to examine the killer’s laptop
A senior detective has apologised to the families of victims of serial killer Stephen Port, saying that he had made a number of “terrible” mistakes in investigating the date-rapes and murders.
Port, 46, from Dagenham, is serving a whole life order after being found guilty in 2016 of raping and killing at least four men that he met via gay and bisexual social networks and dating apps, such as Grindr.
In an inquest, Detective Sergeant Martin O’Donnell told jurors he regretted not informing his colleagues that, two years before his first known murder, Port was accused of drugging a young man with GHB before raping him.
The inquest heard Port had initially been arrested on suspicion of raping a man in December 2012, but the case was dropped when the alleged victim withdrew his statement, despite later making the same allegations.
Jurors are being asked to assess whether the victims’ lives could have been saved had police acted differently.
Mr O’Donnell was the officer in charge of progressing the investigation into Port’s crimes for the first seven months.
But it has emerged that he did not record the rape allegations in the Crime Reporting Information System, which logs progress in an investigation for his colleagues to see.
Mr O’Donnell told the hearing at Barking Town Hall: “It feels like a fairly significant mistake of mine not to include it in that document. It’s a terrible mistake that I did not put it in there.”
He said that he had failed to instruct a search on the police national database on Port. A search would have found British Transport Police records showing officers had seen Port at Barking Station, a short walk from his flat, with a man who was intoxicated by drugs.
This incident took place the same month Port drugged and killed 23-year-old Anthony Walgate with fatal doses of GHB in June 2014.
Mr O’Donnell said he had failed to have Port’s laptop quickly and properly examined. An examination of the computer, that took place more than a year after killing Mr Walgate, discovered that Port had searched for drug-rape pornography while arranging to meet him.
Mr O’Donnell said: “I can only apologise deeply to the families for not being able to do this (the laptop search) to the standard they expected.
“It was there on his laptop and we should have got it – we should have got it.”
He denied the accusation from Mr Walgate’s friend Kiera Brennan that police “wrote him [Mr Walgate] off” because he was a sex worker.
The inquest previously heard that Port repeatedly changed his story over how Mr Walgate died – first telling emergency services he found the fashion student slumped by the entrance to his block of flats on 19 June 2014, to later admitting he had arranged to meet Mr Walgate for sex.
Andrew O’Connor QC, counsel to the inquest, said: “Stephen Port lied to police about his dealings with Anthony, there were suspicions his death was caused by drugs, and you have a detailed account that he (Port) forced drugs on him (the rape complainant) on more than one occasion.”
Mr O’Donnell replied: “Yes, you’re absolutely right, that should have gone on that report.”
The detective’s evidence echoed the testimonies of other officers that his team had been over-worked, saying there was “enormous pressure in the office at the time” and that it was “easy to miss things.”
His colleagues, Detective Constable Nainesh Desai and Detective Constable David Parish, previously told the inquest they made mistakes over the deaths.
Mr Desai said he failed to link the first two deaths – despite both victims being young, gay men, found a short distance from Port’s flat, and who were later found to have been drugged – while Mr Parish did not send Port’s laptop for analysis in the days after he first struck.
Port was sentenced to eight months in prison in March 2015 for lying about Mr Walgate’s death, but was released just several months later. While released with an electronic tag, he killed for a fourth time before he was caught.
The other three victims were Gabriel Kovari, 22, Daniel Whitworth, 21, and Jack Taylor, 25. Their bodies were found in the graveyard of St Margaret of Antioch church in Barking between June 2014 and September 2015.
Two of the bodies were found by the same woman on separate occasions while she was walking her dog.
Port had tried to frame one of his victims with murder, by planting a fake suicide note alongside Whitworth’s body to suggest he was responsible for the death of Kovari, and that he had killed himself out of guilt.
Port was found guilty at the Old Bailey in 2016 of the four murders and sentenced to a whole life order – meaning he will never be released.
The inquest continues.
Additional reporting by PA