Families and loved ones of the victims of Stephen Port have accused the Met Police of homophobia in the bungled investigations into their death.
Port is serving a whole-life sentence for the murders of Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth and Jack Taylor in Barking, East London.
Jurors in the inquests into the deaths of the four young men were told they could not consider prejudice on legal grounds.
READ MORE:Police failings ‘probably’ contributed to deaths of final three men killed by Stephen Port
But those close to the victims, who were given fatal doses of the “date rape” drug GHB by Port after he had scouted them on the gay dating app Grindr, have continued to raise concerns that homophobia played a part in police failings.
Met police chiefs have denied institutional or individual homophobia among officers, citing a lack of knowledge around the use of the drug GHB as a weapon, and professional shortcomings in the investigations.
(Image: PA Archive/PA Images)
Sarah Sak, Mr Walgate’s mother, told the PA news agency: “If Anthony, Gabriel, Daniel and Jack had been girls found in such close proximity there would have been an outcry.
“There would have been a lot more investigation – and there just wasn’t.
“I genuinely do believe part of that was homophobia.”
University friends of fashion student Mr Walgate claimed that officers wrongly assumed he had taken a drugs overdose because he was gay and sometimes worked as an escort.
China Dunning said they discussed the drug GHB in the past and Mr Walgate would have never risked taking it, leaving her convinced his death was suspicious.
She said she feared investigators would assume that because he was a young, gay sex worker he would take drugs.
“I wanted to convince them that they shouldn’t have that stereotype,” she told the jury.
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Another friend, Kiera Brennan, believed there was “an unconscious bias and assumptions made because of Anthony’s sexuality, because of the job that Anthony was doing”.
John Pape, a friend of the second victim Gabriel Kovari, blamed “institutional homophobia” for police failings rather than the force simply being over-stretched.
He told the inquests: “The only thing that makes sense about how disturbingly incompetent this investigation was is prejudice.
“If the lives and deaths of young gay and bi men aren’t treated with significance and respect, I think that amounts to institutional homophobia.”
All four men were found dead in similar circumstances within a short distance of each other in Barking, between June 2014 and September 2015.
Ricky Waumsley, the boyfriend of Daniel Whitworth, told the PA news agency he believes a combination of incompetence and homophobia were behind police failings.
“I believe it’s a mixture of everything. So a bit of laziness, incompetence, lack of training,” he said.
“But I absolutely stand by that they were being homophobic towards these four victims and making general assumptions that they’re all young, gay men who take drugs.”
Mr Waumsley was left feeling excluded by police as officers passed information to Mr Whitworth’s stepmother Amanda, although she was not married to his father at the time, but would not give him any details.
He told the inquests: “If it was a straight couple I wouldn’t have been pushed out as much as I was at the time.
“They dismissed me in every single way. I believe, and I stand by it, it was because we were a gay unmarried couple.”
He was not allowed to see the fake suicide note left on Mr Whitworth’s body for several months after he died, and when he did, he immediately raised concerns that it seemed completely impersonal and did not mention any loved ones.
Mrs Whitworth, also in an interview with PA, said that all the victims had been “depersonalised”.
Referring to homophobia, she said: “There is an element of that there. Whether they’re aware of it or not, it is there.
“The boys were depersonalised. There’s lots of ingredients in this particular recipe, but that’s one of them.”
Mr Waumsley told police that Mr Whitworth had never done drugs apart from smoking one joint in Amsterdam, and he had never heard of the drug GHB before his boyfriend died.
But when his stepmother asked a detective what the drug was, the officer told her to ask Mr Waumsley “because he should know”.
Jurors also heard that after the post-mortem examination of Daniel’s body, the pathologist noticed bruising that could be consistent with being moved before or after death.
But in notes made after the procedure, an officer instead put forward the idea that the marks could have occurred during rough sex.
At the conclusion of the inquests, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said the case showed the Metropolitan Police was “institutionally homophobic”.
He told PA news agency: “They treated the deaths of young gay men as low priority.
“The investigation was marred by stereotyping and biased assumptions.
“It is one of the most incompetent murder investigations by police for many years.”
Mr Pape added: “You have to hope prejudice did play a part because if the Met were this incompetent with every serious crime, regardless of the victim’s origin, sexuality or the setting in which they are found, rapists and murderers would be going unpoliced and no-one would be protected.”
Met Police Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball apologised for the failings, but said: “I don’t think the Met is institutionally homophobic. I do think we had failings in our investigations.
“I do trust that those failings would not be repeated today. And certainly, every single one of us here and many people beyond us, are here to make sure that they wouldn’t happen again.”
Leni Morris, chief executive of LGBT+ anti-abuse charity Galop who were contacted by Mr Pape over his friend’s death, said: “In the case of the Stephen Port investigation, it’s clear to see that there were assumptions made about the victims – because they were young, gay men – around hook-up apps, drug use, and the disregard of evidence from friends and family.
“All of this amounted to an unacceptable delay in the connection of the victims, the investigation of the case, and ultimately the identification of the perpetrator.
“We need to get out of a victim-blaming narrative around all forms of sexual violence, and get to a place where we ensure all victims receive a fair and equal response, whoever they are.”
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