Two detectives investigating serial killer Stephen Port have admitted their regret over key decisions they made in the early stages of the case.
Detective Constable Nainesh Desai 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 Detective Constable David Parish did not send the predator’s laptop for analysis in the days after he first struck.
The detectives made the admissions at Barking Town Hall on Thursday, where inquest jurors are being asked to assess whether the victims’ lives could have been saved had police acted differently.
Anthony Walgate, 23, Gabriel Kovari, 22, Daniel Whitworth, 21, and Jack Taylor, 25, were all found dead near Port’s flat in Barking, east London, during a 16-month period between June 2014 and September 2015.
Port in fact raised the alarm over Mr Walgate on June 19 2014, initially telling emergency services he discovered the aspiring fashion designer slumped outside his flat after returning from his night shift.
A week later, he admitted to police that he had agreed to meet Mr Walgate, an escort, at his flat for sex, but said he did not kill him.
Port was later jailed for perverting the course of justice before the full extent of his offending was realised.
Port, now 46, was found guilty at the Old Bailey in 2016 of the four murders and sentenced to a whole life order.
The inquest heard how Mr Desai interviewed Port a week after Mr Walgate’s death – carried out at the last-minute and beyond the end of his shift – putting to 6ft 5in (1.95m) Port that he was responsible for the murder.
Mr Desai was also called to the crime scene where Mr Kovari was found, on August 28, in the corner of a cemetery near Port’s home.
Andrew O’Connor QC, counsel to the inquest, asked Mr Desai whether he was struck by similarities between the two deaths.
Mr Desai said: “I’ve asked myself this question quite a few times.
“For the life of me I couldn’t put the two scenes together.
“I didn’t think the two were linked.
“I wish I had.”
Earlier, Mr Parish told the inquest he had spent the years since Mr Walgate’s death going over his actions after he did not immediately send Port’s laptop to forensics.
The device was only sent off 10 months later, and it was not until June 2015 that Mr Parish was provided with a USB stick containing all the material including repeated searches for drug rape videos and date rape drugs, just before Port messaged escort Mr Walgate proposing the younger man visit overnight in exchange for £800.
However, Mr Parish did not spot the material and reported only on selfies, sex videos and dating site messages on the laptop relating to chef Port’s “lifestyle”.
Asked by inquest jurors whether he felt “personally responsible for the failings”, Mr Parish replied: “In terms of the laptop – for the last seven-and-a-half years I wish I could have done that.
“And that is something I have to deal with.”
Jurors were shown footage from Port’s first interview with Mr Desai in which he admitted meeting Mr Walgate for sex and then dragging his body outside, but denied being responsible for killing him.
He said: “It (his death) was an accident. And if he did have a fit in my place, is that still my fault yeah?”
He added: “I was scared, to be honest. There was certainly no intention of any harm to him.”
The inquest continues.