Met Police handling of reported deaths a 'shambles' warns senior inspector of constabulary
POLICE could be missing potential homicides in London every day due to inexperienced and unsupervised officers signing off deaths as "non suspicious" without carrying basic checks, a senior inspector has warned.
HM Inspector of constabulary Matt Parr (above) found the Met Police's handling of property and exhibits in connection with initial enquiries into deaths was close to a "shambles" with reports to coroners' officers often "abysmal."
It means serial killers like twisted Stephen Port could potentially still be getting away with murder, he fears, as the force still relies on "luck" to make links between deaths.
He reviewed the Met's handling of reported deaths in the wake of failings identified during investigations into Port's four victims.
"Grindr Killer" Port drugged Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth and Jack Taylor, after meeting them on sex websites.
After they overdosed on GHB, he dumped their bodies near his Barking flat in, east London - three in the same cemetery - between June 2014 and September 2015.
After being caught lying about his contact with Anthony, he admitted moving his body, but police failed to dig deeper and the Met's experienced homicide unit refused to take on the case.
Further checks would have found a previous rape allegation and another incident of concern, but, instead Port killed two more men while on bail for perverting the course of justice over Anthony.
The homicide team also refused to take the case of third victim Mr Whitworth, despite his body found with a forged letter written by Port which claimed he had "committed suicide after killing his friend Gabriel Kline - thought to be a reference to his second victim Mr Kovari.
He was jailed for perverting the course of justice, but still the probe went no further and he killed Mr Taylor upon his release.
Despite clear links between the deaths, it was only after Mr Taylor's relatives applied pressure that the force realised Port (below) was a serial killer.
He received a whole life term prison sentence for their murders in November 2016.
Mr Parr was asked to inspect the force's handling of reported deaths after a coroner identified multiple failings during fresh inquests into all four men's deaths.
Mr Parr said: "It is difficult for people to understand how on Earth they failed to see some of the obvious indications that all was not well. Even before they got him for perverting the course of justice, if thy had done PNC and database checks on Port, as they were supposed to, they would have seen some distressing stuff and thought there might be more to this, but they did not do it then and they still don't do it now.
"There is a line in the report saying officers only join the dots if they are lucky. I just find that extraordinary that eight years after they failed to join the dots that cost people their lives and caused a huge dent in confidence in the Met, how can it be that it has still got no system for analysing patterns."
Eight years on, Mr Parr found the same mistakes being made.
There are about 50,000 deaths a year recorded in London and about 10,000 of these are suicides, accidents, at least unexpected, which require investigation. Just one per cent end up being homicides.
He said: "That is 30 a day so it is happening quite often and is quite a big number and every time they do it there is the potential to miss something.
"For the other 99 per cent, if they are only getting the most cursory of examinations, who knows what's being missed and when you think of the dreadful consequences of things being missed - with Anthony Walgate things being missed resulted in the deaths of three more men."
He said that aside from dealing with cultural issues like racism, homophobia and misogyny, Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has an uphill struggle just getting the basics right.
He said: "(The Met) is not as professional or as competent in some pretty basic police work as they ought to be.
"They've got quite hard-pressed, busy, not very experienced or well-trained officers dealing with literally life and death situations and not getting the supervision needed."
He said in many cases young inexperienced officers had not done the basic checks, the scene was not attended by a substantive sergeant as required and the report to the coroner was nor signed off by an inspector.
He said: "Very inexperienced people are making difficult decisions too quickly."
His report said there were cases where no one "took steps to establish the time of death or tried to find out who may have had access to the premises where the deceased person was found."
It added: "We found that a supervisor had attended the scene in 30 cases (75 percent). Some sergeants told us they couldn’t always attend the scene of a death due to other demands.
A supervisor should also review reports prepared for the coroner. But 35 of the 42 death reports we examined (83 percent) had been submitted to the coroner without any evidence of a duty officer’s involvement.
"We asked six coroners’ officers for their impression of the MPS’s initial response to unexpected deaths. They told us about occasions when items, including money and drugs, were found during post-mortem examinations, even though officers had supposedly searched the deceased people before they were removed from the scene of death.
"But the majority of the records had basic omissions, including some where potentially vital evidence, such as drugs and suspicious injuries, was only discovered at the mortuary.
"We spoke with approximately 30 uniformed sergeants from 4 BCUs. They all said that their other duties, including the administration of force systems, affected their ability to supervise their constables. Some sergeants said they couldn’t always attend the scene of a death due to other demands. They pointed out that they often had to deal with between 50 and 100 CRIS reports during a shift. We examined 40 CRIS reports of death recorded since the introduction of the 2022 MPS death investigation policy.
"We found that a supervisor had attended the scene in 75 percent (30 of 40) of cases. But the reports didn’t state whether or not the supervisors were substantive.
"We asked officers about the MPS’s management of property and exhibits. In one BCU, all of the officers agreed that its processes weren’t fit for purpose. One officer commented: 'We are bad at property. It’s not unusual for items of property to go missing.'
"We were told that although procedures had been introduced or reinforced, it was too late. Officers told us that the property store was already full of items that had been incorrectly packaged, labelled and recorded. They spoke of death investigations
where significant exhibits, including drugs, cash and a mobile phone, couldn’t be found.
"Coroner’s officers also reported cases where property was missing. They said that lost or mishandled items delayed preparations for inquests.
"Mishandling property and exhibits and failing to conduct thorough searches at a scene can seriously affect the categorisation of a death and its investigation. Lost evidential opportunities may never be recovered."
Mr Parr said: "You would have thought property and exhibits would be flawless in administration, but it is not far off a shambles. The Met is slow to recognise a situation of the basics not being good as it should be and how much training is needed to get up to standard.
"With forms to the coroner, in some cases, the quality was abysmal with basic mistake and bits of the form missing.
"Most officers we interviewed did not understand what their role was visive the coroner and a lot of death notices filled in were almost useless to the coroner."
However, he blamed the force system for not providing the required supervision and training rather than rookie officers who were being let down.
He said: "There are mistakes and omissions all over the place such as not checking the Police National Computer, not taking witness statements from everyone in the room and not knocking on the door of neighbours of a woman whose husband phoned up to report her dead to ask if they knew anything about the couple next door."
Even when new procedures were brought in following previous failings there were not being adhered to, he said.
In January 2022, after the inquest and the inspection was announced, the met introduced new training and amended force policy on attending deaths, but Mr Parr found it was still not being adhered to.
They bring in a raft of new policies then pat them selves on the back and say we have trained 10,000 officers on the new policy and then when we go to the new officers and say tell me about your training you get a blank stare."
Mr Parr has been the inspector of the Met Police for the past seven years, including doing a review of its botched probe of fantasist Carl Beech's VIP sex ring allegations, so he was not shocked by the latest failings he found.
"If people ask me which is the best police force in the country I say the Met, because in specialist areas it does fantastic work, but if I am asked for the worst I also say the Met because of its problems with the basics."
Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe said: “The deaths of Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth and Jack Taylor were a tragedy and we are sincerely sorry we failed them and their families. While, as the inspection report acknowledges, we have worked hard since the murders to understand what went wrong and improve how we work, it highlights more we need to do.
“We have to get the basics right. That’s around how we train and support our officers to investigate deaths, identify suspicious circumstances and understand how protected characteristics may impact on those investigations.
"Our death investigation policy is sound, now it’s about turning policy into effective practice. To do this we have reviewed and updated our training for frontline officers and have begun a programme of enhanced training for their supervisors.
“We are also moving quickly on family liaison. We know we fell short in this case and the families did not get the service they needed or deserved. It is important we look again at this area to see what more we need to do to support families through such difficult times.
“We will fully consider the recommendations made by HMICFRS* and ensure these are not just fully addressed but embedded into our working practices. This is what we have been doing with previous recommendations from the Coroner and the Independent Office for Police Conduct.
“We are sincere in our desire to make real change to minimise the chance of a case like this ever happening again.”
"The Commissioner has set out how the Met will achieve its mission for More Trust, Less Crime and High Standards over the next two years through the Turnaround Plan. A draft plan has been published and, following further consultation, will be finalised soon. The plan is clear on the need for us to get the basics right to better serve Londoners.
*His Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services carried out the inspection between June and November 2022 following the inquests into the four deaths. The report was commissioned by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. The inspection looked in detail at Met processes and ways of working when dealing with unexpected deaths and what happened in the Port case."