The long-awaited inquests into the deaths of serial killer Stephen Port’s victims will focus on whether police “missed opportunities” to stop him sooner, a jury has heard.
Opening the inquests this morning, Coroner Sarah Munro QC said responsibility for the murders of four young gay men, including one from Gravesend, “ultimately rests with one man only - Stephen Port”.
But unlike Port’s criminal trial, the inquests would look at the “competence and adequacy” of the police investigation into his crimes. Port, now 46, had killed his victims at his flat in Barking by given them overdoses of the drug GHB before dumping their bodies nearby, jurors were told.
In 2016, he was found guilty of the murders Anthony Walgate, 23, Gabriel Kovari, 22, Daniel Whitworth, 21, and Jack Taylor, 25, and handed a whole life order.
Today, Ms Munro told jurors that Port would play no part in the inquests into the deaths but they would hear a lot about him and his lifestyle.
She said: “The trial did not answer the important question of whether the deaths of Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth and Jack Taylor might have been prevented.”
She said the inquests were necessary to look at the investigation to see whether “opportunities were missed” that might have stopped Port earlier.
Ms Munro added: “If there appear to have been shortcomings in the way in which the police investigated these deaths, we must consider those shortcomings dispassionately and resist the temptation to look for scapegoats.”
The coroner said the function of the inquests was not to attribute criminal or civil liability but to make findings and reach conclusions about the four deaths.
She told the jury to “beware the wisdom of hindsight” when considering what the police knew at the time of each of the deaths.
Over the next 10 weeks, the inquest jury will hear more details of how four young gay man met their deaths at the hands of the serial killer between June 2014 and September 2015.
The hearings, which were postponed due to the pandemic, are being held at Barking Town Hall – just yards from where the bodies of the victims were dumped by Port, three of which were left near to St Margaret’s Church in Barking.
The inquests come six years after Port’s 16-month killing spree was brought to an end, following the death of the final victim, Mr Taylor.
Jurors were told that some of the victims’ loved ones had attended the inquest.