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Police urge dating apps to do more to prevent crime, after Stephen Port case

Published 24/11/2016

The picture profile of Stephen Port on social media site Gaydar (Metropolitan Police/PA)
The picture profile of Stephen Port on social media site Gaydar (Metropolitan Police/PA)

Dating apps must take greater responsibility for protecting their users' safety, police chiefs said as Scotland Yard faced allegations it missed opportunities to stop serial killer Stephen Port.

The 41-year-old chef drugged and murdered four young men and raped several others he had lured to his flat after meeting them via web dating services.

The Metropolitan Police, which has come under fierce criticism for its handling of the case, said it was working with charities to raise awareness among users.

The force is also re-examining dozens of unexplained deaths involving the drug GHB in recent years to make sure that foul play has not been missed.

The National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) said that apps could do more to help prevent their users becoming victims of sexual predators.

Chief Constable Jane Sawyers, police lead for LGBT issues at the NPCC, told the BBC that while apps have a role in referring victims on to police "they could do more to prevent the offences in the first place".

She also suggested apps could tell users to "get to know the person, not the profile" and carry warnings of the many fake accounts on the various apps and sites.

Ms Sawyers admitted there was still a "stigma" surrounding the reporting of crimes stemming from gay dating apps, the BBC said.

She added: "There shouldn't be any concerns about gay people reporting things to police ... we're not there to judge, what we're interested in is justice for the individual."

Port met his victims online and invited them to his flat in Dagenham, East London, where he poisoned them with the party drug GHB, raped them and dumped their bodies within 400 metres of his flat.

His first victim, Anthony Walgate, 23, was found dead in the communal hall of Port's apartment block in the early hours of June 19 2014.

When police tracked him down, Port lied to officers to distance himself from the fashion student and occasional male escort.

He was later jailed for perverting the course of justice but continued to claim Mr Walgate died from taking his own drugs.

Slovakian 22-year-old Gabriel Kovari was staying on Port's sofa as a temporary flatmate.

Three weeks after Mr Kovari was found dead, the same dog walker stumbled across the body of Daniel Whitworth, 21, from Gravesend, Kent, on September 20, 2014.

In his hand, was a suicide note taking the blame for Mr Kovari's death, saying he gave him too much GHB at a party.

Police treated Mr Whitworth's death "at face value" and no efforts were made to verify the sham note which turned out to be in Port's handwriting, jurors at the Old Bailey heard.

Some of the victims' loved ones, members of the Met's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) independent advisory group and journalists from website Pink News all raised concerns that a serial killer was at large, and were all told that there was no link between the deaths.

Jack Taylor, 25, died within hours of hooking up with Port through a dating app in the early hours of September 13 2015.

Initially, his death was treated as "non-suspicious", the Old Bailey was told.

His mother, Donna Taylor, said police "should be held accountable for Jack's death" and they planned to sue after Port was convicted at the Old Bailey on Wednesday.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said a public appeal and investigation would have been far swifter and more comprehensive had the victims been "four well-off young women from Mayfair".

He accused the police of "class, gender and sexuality bias" and suggested lives may have been saved had they acted sooner.

Commander Stuart Cundy, of the Met's Specialist Crime and Operations command, said: "We have held community meetings and worked alongside organisations such as anti-violence charity Galop to issue safety advice for those who use online dating sites and apps or are affected by any of the issues raised."

An Independent Police Complaints Commission inquiry is being carried out into the force's handling of the case and 17 officers are facing investigation into possible misconduct.

The Met is also reassessing 58 unexplained deaths involving GHB from a four-year period across London to make sure that foul play has not been missed in any other cases.

It is not known if Port has been linked to any of them.

In total Port was found guilty of a total of 22 offences against 11 men including the four murders, four rapes, 10 counts of administering a substance and four sex assaults.

He will be sentenced on Friday.

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