Police investigating the deaths of two young, gay men in near-identical circumstances less than a month apart should have engaged more with the LGBT community as they sought to piece together what happened, an inquest has heard.
Sean Wilson, who was deputy borough commander for Barking in east London in summer 2014, apologised for the “substandard” investigation into the deaths of Gabriel Kovari and Daniel Whitworth.
Mr Wilson was also forced to retract comments he made that falsely implied both men were users of GHB – a drug which serial killer Stephen Port, in fact, plied to murder the pair, as well as two other men, before he was eventually brought to a halt.
Inquests into the four deaths, at Barking town hall, are examining whether police could have stopped Port sooner by acting differently.
The inquest jury heard Mr Wilson arranged a special gold group meeting of key personnel on September 22 2014, two days after Mr Whitworth’s lifeless body had been found in a Barking graveyard with a suicide note apparently claiming responsibility for Mr Kovari’s death the previous month. It had been written by Port to cover his tracks.
While an adviser on rough sleeping was invited to attend, no member of the LGBT community was called for their perspective.
Mr Wilson said: “With hindsight, yes, we could have engaged them (the LGBT community) far more.”
He then added that Mr Kovari and Mr Whitworth “engaged in” the use of GHB, which he said was not an LGBT-specific issue.
Beatrice Collier, counsel to the inquest, stated that drugs were only found in the tragic pair’s systems because they were given to them, illegally, by Port.
Mr Wilson replied “possibly”, to which he was corrected.
“No, definitely,” said Ms Collier.
Mr Wilson replied: “Then I need to retract that.
“Yes, we should have been far more proactive with the LGBT community and that is one of the lessons we need to learn from this tragedy.”
The inquests previously heard evidence from friends of Anthony Walgate, Port’s first victim, that they believed police let “unconscious bias and assumptions” because of his sexuality and his work as an escort affect the quality of their investigation.
Mr Wilson, concluding his evidence on Wednesday, said: “I would like to apologise to the families.
“The investigation on the borough at the time was substandard.
“I hope in the future that somehow there can be a reconsideration of the failings.
“We are in a far better place now, but please accept my apologies.”
Mr Walgate, 23, Mr Kovari, 22, Mr Whitworth, 21, and final victim Jack Taylor, 25, were all found dead near Port’s flat between June 2014 and September 2015.
Port, 46, was handed a whole-life order at the Old Bailey in 2016 after being found guilty of the murders.
The inquests continue.
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