The serial killer Stephen Port has been sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison for the murder of four young gay men he drugged and raped before dumping their bodies near his east London flat.
The 41-year-old chef, who had a fetish for sex with unconscious boyish-looking men, was convicted on Wednesday of the murders of Anthony Walgate, a 23-year-old fashion student from Hull, Gabriel Kovari, 22, originally from Slovakia, Daniel Whitworth, 21, a chef from Kent, and Jack Taylor, 25, a forklift driver from Dagenham.
Sentencing Port to a whole-life order, Mr Justice Openshaw said: “I accept his intention was only to cause really serious harm rather than cause death but he must have known and foreseen there was a high risk of death, the more so after the death of Anthony Walgate, the first victim.”
He said: “The murders were committed as part of a persistent course of conduct of the defendant surreptitiously drugging these young men so that he could penetrate them while they were unconscious.
“A significant degree of planning went into obtaining the drugs in advance and in luring the victims to his flat.
“Having killed them by administering an overdose, he dragged them out into the street in one case, or took them to the churchyard in the other cases, and abandoned their bodies in a manner which robbed them of their dignity, and thereby greatly increased the distress of their loving families.”
The judge said: “I have no doubt that the seriousness of the offending is so exceptionally high that the whole life order is justified; indeed it is required. The sentence therefore upon the counts of murder is a sentence of life imprisonment. I decline to set a minimum term. The result is a whole life sentence and the defendant will die in prison.”
There were loud cheers and applause from family members in court, while someone in the public gallery shouted out: “I hope you die a long, slow death, you piece of shit.”
DCI Tim Duffield, senior investigating officer from the Met’s homicide and major crime command, said: “These evil crimes have left entire families, a community and a nation in shock.”
He said Port was one of the most dangerous individuals he had encountered in almost 28 years of policing and that a full-life term in prison was the only appropriate punishment in the circumstances.
Outside court, Taylor’s sister Donna said: “We finally have justice for Jack and the other boys. A sick and twisted scumbag will never be able to hurt or destroy any other family’s life. Jack can finally rest in peace. We will always be completely heartbroken.”
The judge highlighted Port’s attempt to cover up two of his murders with a fake suicide note as “wicked and monstrous”.
All four men died after being given fatal overdoses of the date-rape drug GHB, also known as G or liquid ecstasy.
Port was convicted of 22 offences against 11 men, including drugging and sex offences against seven men who survived their encounters with him.
Despite striking similarities between the four murders, which were carried out over 15 months, the Metropolitan police failed to link them until the family of Taylor, his final victim, forced them to re-examine all the deaths.
The Taylor family are planning to sue the force, and believe Port would not have been stopped if they had not fought for a full investigation.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating the Met’s initial response to the murders, including whether “discrimination played any part in actions and decisions”.
The judge referred to the police investigation in his sentencing remarks, saying: “It is not to me to say whether the seeming bizarre coincidence of these three gay young men being found dead so close together might have given rise to suspicions that these deaths were not the result of ordinary self-administered drug overdoses but that is how their deaths, including Jack Taylor’s death, were treated at the time; the competence and adequacy of the investigation will later be examined by others.”
He said police had accepted the death of Port’s first victim, Walgate, “at face value” adding: “Whether the police were right to do so, in the light of what they knew or ought to have found out, is for others to decide having thoroughly inquired into the matter, which it has not been appropriate for us to do in the course of the criminal trial.”
The public gallery at the Old Bailey court was packed, and all the members of the jury had returned to court to hear the sentencing.
Ahead of sentencing, Jonathan Rees QC, prosecuting, read aloud to the court from victim impact statements. Relatives of Walgate described their “devastation”. His mother said her son was clever, funny and talented and wanted to be a famous fashion designer. Port had not only destroyed their family, but had destroyed his own, she said.
Kovari’s brother said the impact on his family of the loss of his only brother could “hardly be described in words”, said Rees. His murder had “changed their lives for ever”.
Adam Whitworth, father of Daniel Whitworth, described living parallel lives, where grief tainted everyday life. Friends had told him that “the light had gone out of his eyes”, said Rees, and he had a “life sentence of grief”. His partner said she had become “bitter and cynical”, that the “rich and fulfilling life ahead of us with Dan has been stolen from us”. It had been painful for the family when they had first wrongly been told he had taken his own life, Rees said.
Taylor’s family said their lives had been destroyed, and they had had to suffer the “devastating effect” of his body being exhumed. They endured endless sleepless nights, and family members had taken time off work sick. The loss of the son, brother, uncle, brother-in-law had left “a black hole that will never be filled”.
David Etheridge QC, for Port, said in mitigation that at that period in Port’s life, he had descended into a “vortex” of drug-taking, where “gratification of his sexual life was central”.
Port’s fetish for sex with drugged young men had “graduated to fixation, and fixation to compulsion”.
He added the prosecution had not alleged “any intent to kill these young men”. The premeditated planning “was to drug to unconsciousness and not to end someone’s life”, said Etheridge.
As Port was convicted, Stuart Cundy, a police commander who leads the Met’s specialist crime and operations unit, offered personal letters of apology to the victims’ families for the missed opportunities to catch Port sooner.
During the trial it emerged that Port, a bus depot canteen chef, had been arrested and charged for lying about how the body of his first victim, Walgate, came to be found dumped outside the communal entrance to his flat in Barking, east London, in June 2014.
Port was bailed. He went on to murder his second and third victims, Kovari and Whitworth, in August and September 2014. Their bodies were found within three weeks, by the same dog walker, propped up in a sitting position in a graveyard near his flat.
As part of an elaborate cover-up, Port faked and planted a suicide note purporting to have been written by Whitworth claiming he had taken his own life by overdosing on GHB in guilt over accidentally giving Kovari a fatal dose of the drug during sex. The note, which was taken at “face value” by investigating officers, included the line: “BTW, please do not blame the guy I was with last night, we only had sex, then I left. He knows nothing of what I have done.” Had police attempted to trace that “guy’, which they did not, it could have led them to Port.
Port was briefly jailed in March 2015 for perverting the course of justice in lying to police about Walgate’s death. He was released in June 2015. Three months later, in September, he murdered Taylor.
Seventeen police officers are facing investigation for possible misconduct over the catalogue of failures in catching Port. The Met is now re-examining 58 unexplained deaths involving the drug GHB from a four-year period, across London, in case signs of suspicious death were missed.
Port used a string of fake online dating profiles and was very active on social media. He met his victims via apps such as Grindr, expressing a sexual preference for young, boyish-looking men he called “twinks”.
Following his conviction, the force has appealed for any other victims who suffered at Port’s hands to come forward.