Council leader slams Met over ‘failings’ around Stephen Port murders

The leader of Barking and Dagenham Council has slammed the Metropolitan Police for being a “complete mess” following a damning watchdog report which concluded the force has not learnt from several blunders it made when trying to catch serial killer Stephen Port.

Darren Rodwell said he doubts the Met has learnt any “meaningful lessons” after Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth and Jack Taylor were murdered in Barking by Port between June 2014 and September 2015.

Serial killer Stephen Port

The report, carried out by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, warned that “history could repeat itself” as some of the “most basic” checks were still not being carried out properly by officers during investigations.

It listed around 20 recommendations which included improving the Met’s relationship with the LGBT+ community and family liaison and training.

Cllr Rodwell said: “It is concerning to hear inspectors have said they cannot be confident that another similar incident won’t happen again.

“The level of incompetence is so evident, yet officers involved in the Stephen Port investigation are still serving in the force and have not been made accountable.”

Port gave all four murder victims an overdose of the “date rape” drug gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) at his home in Barking where he later dumped their bodies nearby.

The watchdog said the grieving families were the “heroes of this story” and that if it wasn’t for their “heroic behaviour”, Port might never have been caught.

Police only realised they were investigating a serial killer by the time the body of the final victim was found.

Cllr Rodwell added: “The failures keep stacking up – we are yet to see actual improvements and at the heart of this is the attitude to LGBT+ people and the mindset of officers during an investigation.

“We need a clear accountability mechanism and that needs to happen as a matter of urgency.”

He also blasted the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) as “not fit for purpose” and said: “The IOPC owe it to the families and friends of Anthony, Gabriel, Daniel and Jack, and the LGBT+ community, to finally consider the role homophobia played in the shocking failures that have long since been exposed in the police investigations.

“I have written to two home secretaries over the years about the IOPC’s own review in 2019, which fell short of proposing sanctions for those involved in the Stephen Port investigation, despite identifying systemic failings in it.

“If we are to restore public confidence in the police, it must be so for all our communities.”

Cllr Rodwell has demanded a review of the IOPC in the wake of the Port murders.

In response to the critical report, the Met’s assistant commissioner Louisa Rolfe said the force was sincerely sorry it had failed the victims and their families.

She said: “We have worked hard since the murders to understand what went wrong and improve how we work, it highlights more we need to do.

“We have to get the basics right. That’s around how we train and support our officers to investigate deaths, identify suspicious circumstances and understand how protected characteristics may impact on those investigations.”

She continued: “Our death investigation policy is sound, now it’s about turning policy into effective practice.

“To do this we have reviewed and updated our training for frontline officers and have begun a programme of enhanced training for their supervisors.

“We are also moving quickly on family liaison. We know we fell short in this case and the families did not get the service they needed or deserved. It is important we look again at this area to see what more we need to do to support families through such difficult times.”

Ms Rolfe concluded by saying the Met needs to make real changes to minimise the chance of a case like this ever happening again.

A spokesperson for the IOPC said: “We welcome the HMICFRS report and the recommendations which are aimed to improve the Metropolitan Police response to investigations involving deaths.

“Following our original investigation into the force’s handling of the investigation into Stephen Port’s murders, we identified 18 learning recommendations for the MPS, all of which were accepted.

“Because of our ongoing re-investigation we are not in a position to publish our recommendations until it has finished and any potential proceedings have been completed.

“Our re-investigation is proceeding as expected and we have now completed a review of a significant amount of documentation, including a substantial amount of new information.

“Although we are not in a position to comment any further at this stage, we expect to be in a position to announce an update in the near future.”

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Ruby Gregory

Local Democracy Reporter