A senior detective investigating serial killer Stephen Port has apologised to the families of his victims, after admitting a series of “terrible” personal errors on the case.
Detective Sergeant Martin O’Donnell told inquest jurors he regretted not sharing intelligence with colleagues about a previous allegation that Port plied a young man with drugs before raping him, nor did he instruct a search on the police national database about Port.
The latter meant Mr O’Donnell was unaware British Transport Police files showed Port was found at Barking Station, a short walk from his flat in east London, with another man who was under the influence of drugs, the same month Port plied his first victim, 23-year-old Anthony Walgate, with fatal doses of the substance GHB.
The detective also admitted failing to promptly and properly look at evidence on Port’s laptop, which, when examined more than a year after he first struck, showed him searching for drug-rape pornography involving young men and boys while arranging to meet escort Mr Walgate.
Mr O’Donnell, the officer in charge of progressing the investigation for the first seven months, said: “I can only apologise deeply to the families for not being able to do this (the laptop search) to the standard they expected.
“It was there on his laptop and we should have got it. We should have got it.”
He denied the accusation, put by Kiera Brennan, one of Mr Walgate’s friends, that police “wrote him (Mr Walgate) off” due to him being a male escort.
The inquest heard Port had initially been arrested on suspicion of raping a man in December 2012, but the case was dropped when the alleged victim withdrew his statement, despite again stating 46-year-old chef Port “forced” him to have sex after giving him drugs.
But Mr O’Donnell did not update the Crime Reporting Information System (CRIS), which logs progress in an investigation for colleagues to see.
He told the hearing at Barking Town Hall: “It feels like a fairly significant mistake of mine not to include it in that document.
“It’s a terrible mistake that I did not put it in there.”
The inquest previously heard Port repeatedly changed his account over Mr Walgate’s death – initially telling emergency services he chanced upon the fashion student slumped by the communal entrance to his block of flats on June 19 2014, to later admitting he agreed to meet the young escort for sex.
Andrew O’Connor QC, counsel to the inquest, said: “Stephen Port lied to police about his dealings with Anthony, there were suspicions his death was caused by drugs, and you have a detailed account that he (Port) forced drugs on him (the rape complainant) on more than one occasion.”
Mr O’Donnell replied: “Yes, you’re absolutely right, that should have gone on that report.”
The detective’s evidence echoed the testimonies of other officers that his team had been over-worked at the time.
He said: “There was enormous pressure in the office at the time.
“We discussed what we were doing at the time as spinning plates – you would rush to one plate that seemed to be crashing down, then another plate that seemed to be crashing down. It was easy to miss things.”
His colleagues, Detective Constable Nainesh Desai and Detective Constable David Parish, previously told the inquest how they made mistakes over the deaths.
Mr Desai said he failed to link the first two deaths – despite both victims being young, gay men, found a short distance from Port’s flat, and who were later found to have been drugged – while Mr Parish did not send the predator’s laptop for analysis in the days after he first struck.
Jurors are being asked to assess whether the victims’ lives could have been saved had police acted differently.
Port was initially jailed in March 2015 for lying about Mr Walgate’s death, but was released to kill for a fourth time before his murder spree was brought to a halt.
Mr Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, 22, Daniel Whitworth, 21, and Jack Taylor, 25, were all found dead near Port’s flat during a 16-month period between June 2014 and September 2015.
Port was found guilty at the Old Bailey in 2016 of the four murders and sentenced to a whole life order.
The inquest continues.