A police officer leading the investigation into the death of serial killer Stephen Port’s fourth and final victim was unaware of the striking similarities between the previous deaths of young gay men in the area, an inquest jury has heard.
Inspector Jason O’Donohue said he was “absolutely flabbergasted” when he realised the location where 25-year-old Jack Taylor’s body was dumped was just seconds away from where Gabriel Kovari and Daniel Whitworth were found a year earlier.
Mr O’Donohue was acting up as duty inspector in Barking, east London, in September 2015 when Mr Taylor’s lifeless body was discovered in a church graveyard by a park warden, apparently from a drugs overdose.
He was joined at the scene by two detectives – Yinka Adeyemo-Phillips and Peter Sweetman – who had been involved in the Kovari and Whitworth investigations, but neither told Mr O’Donohue that the deaths all involved young men, found in close proximity, with drug paraphernalia present, and with their mobile phones missing, he said.
Mr O’Donohue then declared the death unexplained but non-suspicious, unaware at that stage that Mr Taylor, like three others before him, had been drugged and murdered by Port.
It was not until a month later that all four deaths became linked to Port when a police officer working on the investigation into his first victim, Anthony Walgate, chanced upon a CCTV still of Mr Taylor walking alongside Port the night before he died.
Giving evidence to the inquests into Port’s four victims, at Barking Town Hall, Mr O’Donohue said there had been no discussion between himself and the CID officers about the similarities between the deaths.
Henrietta Hill QC, counsel for the victims’ families, said: “If you had been made aware of more information of similarities between Jack Taylor and the other two, your decision-making might have been different?
Mr O’Donohue replied: “It might have been.
“I wasn’t aware of any similarities other than all three deaths were involving men.”
He said he had no idea the bodies of Mr Kovari and Mr Whitworth had been found so close to Mr Taylor’s until Port went on trial for murder.
“Not until I saw the court graphic for the trial,” he said.
“I was absolutely flabbergasted.”
Inquest jurors heard Mr Taylor’s family were upset about a lack of information from police on the investigation.
It was 10 days after they were first told of his death that Pc Jon Taylor, a parks officer who was first on scene, went to see the family.
It was during these discussions that they explained Mr Taylor was anti-drugs, and they believed the aspiring police officer had no reason to be in Barking.
The police constable – who had no prior experience on investigatory work – then began contacting those who last saw Mr Taylor alive, leading him to look for CCTV in Barking train station which showed he met an unidentified tall man, who weeks later was identified as Port.
Port, now 46, was handed a whole-life order in 2016 for the murders of Mr Walgate, 23, Mr Kovari, 22, Mr Whitworth, 21, and Mr Taylor between June 2014 and September 2015.
The inquests are examining whether lives could have been saved had police acted differently.
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