Article by the Families’ legal team at Hudgell Solicitor
Article by the Families’ legal team at Hudgell Solicitor
Warning: Contains details some may find upsetting
The BBC drama ‘Four Lives’ has given television viewers a heart-breaking insight into the tireless efforts of the families of Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth and Jack Taylor to secure justice for their loved ones.
Between the filming of the drama and its broadcast this week, an inquest into the deaths of all four victims was held, where a multitude of police failures were uncovered and a jury found that failings by the police “probably” contributed to at least three of the deaths.
Understandably, viewers have expressed their shock and anger at the police’s lack of investigation, how they overlooked and failed to consider crucial evidence and obvious potential leads, and the lack of support and basic respect shown to the families whose lives had been shattered.
Below is a summary of crucial evidence that was missed, where investigations fell short, and where the families of the victims were badly let down – some which were not covered by the television series due to there being so many.
Following the death of Anthony Walgate
After he had administered a fatal dose of the date rape drug GHB at his flat in Barking in June 2014, Port moved Anthony’s body outside and called 999 claiming that he was driving past when he had noticed Anthony on the floor.
His initial account described Anthony as alive and gargling, but medical examination conducted at the scene suggested that Anthony had been dead for several hours when found. This was the first of many inconsistencies the police did not attach significance to.
Port then changed his account during interview, eventually admitting that Anthony had become ill in his flat and that he had panicked and moved him outside.
During Anthony’s post-mortem it was noticed that his trousers were both inside out and back to front. He was also wearing an oversized t shirt, later found to be Port’s.
Official police guidance directs officers to “think murder” if there is the slightest doubt that a scene is suspicious. The same guidance reminds officers that the significance of information from the person who found the body cannot be overestimated, and that they could be the murderer themselves.
Failure to investigate Stephen Port’s character and background
Several key background checks on Port were not carried out, despite advice from murder experts within the police.
He had a history of alleged drug induced rape and this was known by the police shortly after Anthony’s body was found.
On the Police National Database (PND), there was also report of another incident where Port had been found with another man in Barking, with striking similarities to Anthony’s circumstances.
As he did with Anthony, Port claimed on that occasion that he found the man outside his house and that he had been trying to help him get home. He was found going through the man’s bag and alleged he was trying to find his phone. The man said he had been in Port’s flat all day. Port admitted to using drugs and said he thought the man might have used GHB.
Because a PND check was not conducted, the police missed all of this information. These strikingly similar circumstances should have raised immediate suspicions regarding Port’s account in relation to Anthony’s death.
The Murder Investigation Team also advised borough officers to analyse Port’s laptop, but it was not submitted for 10 months following Anthony’s death, by which point Port had already killed Gabriel and Daniel.
Even when Port’s laptop was eventually analysed and an array of disturbing material was found, police failed to identify the significance of this and his deep obsession with date rape pornography was missed.
Port’s U-turn account during police questioning was deemed believable. Despite the fanciful explanation put forward, very little was challenged in interview.
He was charged and convicted with perverting the course of justice, due to lying about the circumstances of how he came to meet Anthony and find his body. He was released from prison and this enabled him to go on to kill again.
Following the deaths of Gabriel Kovari and Daniel Whitworth
Gabriel Kovari’s death was not linked to Anthony Walgate’s despite numerous similarities.
Both were young males in their 20’s, white and slim. They were both found in a seated position and their tops had been pulled up. Both of their phones were missing and there was a distance of only 400 metres between where their bodies were found.
The death of Daniel Whitworth threw up even more striking similarities which were not considered.
Firstly, both Gabriel and Daniel’s bodies were found by the same dog walker in Barking Abbey, who said she “thought the whole scenario didn’t look right” and in her call to the police said “you won’t believe it…exactly the same spot…it’s very peculiar.”
A pathologist recommend that a bedsheet found close to Daniel be analysed, but this never happened. The sheet was eventually tested after the death of Jack Taylor and was found to have Port’s DNA on it.
Police declared the scene of Gabriel’s death as non-suspicious, meaning it was not preserved, despite it being unknown how he had got there and how he had died. Because of this, Gabriel’s body was repatriated, and his clothing was disposed of, leading to the loss of forensic opportunities.
Despite no evidence suggesting sexual activity, officers voiced concern about Barking Abbey becoming a haven for gay sex and “dogging”. Bruising on Daniel’s armpit was believed by officers to be caused by rough sex, despite armpit bruising being consistent with the movement of a body.
Unlike the other deaths, Daniel’s body was found with a suicide note that had actually been written by Port. This was not considered for specialist handwriting analysis and deemed legitimate by the police, despite suspicious indicators such as it being found in a plastic wallet and not mentioning any family members.
No pen was found at the scene despite the note making clear it was written in the churchyard, the phrase “dropped my phone in the grass here somewhere” was an attempt to explain the missing phone and the inclusion of “BTW, please do not blame the guy I was with last night. He knows nothing of what happened” was a reference to Port. Despite this reference to another individual, police failed to follow this up.
Port’s fake identity of Jon Luck
Port created a fake identity online named ‘Jon Luck’ and contacted Gabriel’s partner, pretending to be a grieving friend of Gabriel, asking whether the body was cremated and admitting to being concerned that his DNA was on Gabriel’s body.
He invented a false narrative and used his fake identity to create an illusion that Gabriel and Daniel had been spending time together prior to their deaths. This account was provided to police but was never investigated. Police were alerted to the existence of Jon Luck’s accounts, but did not make enquiries. Instead they asked Gabriel’s partner to ask Jon Luck to contact them.
Following the death of Jack Taylor
Even after Jack’s death in September 2015, links were still not made with the other deaths, despite further striking similarities.
All victims had been youthful gay men who had been found in slumped or sitting positions, with evidence that each victim was dragged to where they were found. All were missing their phone, which was highly unusual for men of their age. All four were also found close to Port’s address.
Key details at the scene where Jack was found were also not identified, including a ‘needle mark’ on the body of Jack which was found at his post-mortem examination, but not identified in the search carried out at the scene. A tourniquet and alcohol wipes in Jack’s pocket were also missed.
Jack’s family were fierce in identifying similarities through their own research and hard work and highlighting them to the officers. Like the families of the previous victims, the Taylors were consistently ignored despite being correct in what they were saying to officers.
Inadequate Family Liaison
Liaison with Anthony’s family was incredibly poor as his mother Sarah found out about Port’s arrest on the internet and was told by police, ‘We get more deaths in a week here than you do a year in Hull’.
She was told to stop asking questions as ‘only two people know what happened – one is dead and the other is not talking.’
Officers dismissed her suggestion of a link with Anthony’s death when Gabriel and Daniel were found, and Anthony’s father was initially told his brother Anthony had been found dead. When he said he didn’t have a brother called Anthony, but a son, police said “it must be your son then”.
Liaison with Gabriel’s family to provide them with information or obtain information from them was non-existent, with one officer saying that they were liaising with a burial company in Lithuania, despite Gabriel being Slovakian.
The forged suicide note was initially kept from Daniel’s family for some time following the death.
A small segment was emailed to Daniel’s father and he was called minutes later to confirm identification. Daniel’s father said it might be Daniel’s handwriting, but he could not be sure.
The family were denied access to the full suicide note for a significant time after Daniel’s death and when they did eventually see it, they raised major concerns. Despite this, the handwriting was never sent off for expert analysis and instead, the police told the coroner at the original inquest that the handwriting had been identified by the family, as Daniel’s.
Daniel’s long-term partner Ricky was not consulted as he was not regarded as next of kin and his stepmother Mandy was told to ask Ricky about the drug GHB, as it was presumed he would know what it was. Mandy believes this comment was made because he was a gay man.
Mandy was also told that she was “overthinking it” when she identified inconsistencies in what the police were alleging had happened to Daniel.