A senior Metropolitan police officer has denied that unconscious bias affected his investigation into the death of serial killer Stephen Port’s first victim because he was “young, gay and working as an escort”.
DCI Christopher Jones, from the Met murder investigation team, declared the death of Anthony Walgate, 23, a fashion student from Hull, to be “unexplained” rather than “suspicious”, 'n geregtelike doodsondersoek aangehoor.
Jones, since retired, also determined Barking and Dagenham borough police should have primacy to investigate the death rather than it being taken over by the better-resourced Met specialist homicide command, the jury sitting at Barking town hall was told.
Jones later escalated the decision of primacy to a senior superintendent who decided the investigation should remain with the borough, even after one senior borough officer reported that “on the balance of probabilities Anthony Walgate died at the hands of another”.
The same officer suggested the Met’s homicide squad should take it over as the borough did not have such experienced homicide officers, Andrew O’Connor QC, counsel for the inquest, gesê.
One week after Walgate died on 19 Junie 2014, police were aware that two days before his death Port had contacted his victim online using a false name and had offered to pay £700 for escort services.
O’Connor asked Jones: “Is it possible there was something about this case, the fact he was young, gay, working as an escort, something that made you think it didn’t warrant involvement of a specialist team and should be left with the borough, is that possible?”
"Geen, that’s not possible,” Jones replied. He continued: “I think you are referring to unconscious bias. I think I have reflected on that, challenged myself, and I am absolutely content that does not exist in the way I approach any investigation," hy het gesê.
Jones was giving evidence at the inquests into the deaths of Walgate, Gabriel Kavori, 22, Daniel Whitworth, 21, and Jack Taylor, 25, who were fatally drugged with date rape drug GHB and raped by Port, who is serving a whole life term for their murders.
Jones was the senior homicide command detective on the scene after Walgate’s body was found outside the communal entrance to Port’s flat in Cooke Street in Barking, Oos -Londen. His involvement in the case ended on 26 Junie 2014.
The anonymous 999 call had been traced to Port, who told detectives he had found Walgate lying across the communal door at 4.05am and had tried to rouse him, and that he had made a “gurgling” sound.
Jones said he was not aware that the London ambulance technician and the police medical forensic examiner both believed Walgate had been dead for several hours. Jones agreed it was “an important inconsistency” with Port’s account and should have been brought to his attention.
Jones was also unaware that it had been discovered through the police national computer that Port had been the subject of a previous allegation of rape in 2012. Asked by O’Connor if that was something he should have been told at the time, Jones replied it would have been “helpful” to be told.
Jones said it was his decision to declare the death as “unexplained” rather than “suspicious” as in the time he was involved with the case it did not cross the threshold for transferring to homicide command.
He did not recall Walgate’s body being “propped up” in a sitting position, saying his recollection was he was “laid on his back”. He did not recall that Walgate’s trouser flies were undone, hy het gesê.
The fact Walgate had no phone did not “jump out” as being a suspicious, because other personal effects such as his wallet and travel card were on his person. The first he knew of bruising found under Walgate’s arms, and the fact his underpants were on back to front and inside out, was in October last year, hy het gesê.
Of his decision on primacy he said: “At no point was I sitting on an investigation that I thought was a homicide, but was leaving it to Barking and Dagenham [borough]”
The inquests, which are expected to last up to 10 weke, continue.