‘Chilling’: Stephen Merchant criticises British police over serial killer investigation depicted in Four Lives

Stephen Merchant has criticised the British police for failings in its investigation into serial killer Stephen Port, the real-life murderer Merchant plays in the BBC drama Four Lives.

Port, who was dubbed the “Grindr Killer”, used the gay dating app to target younger men. His crimes were committed in 2014 and 2015.

Earlier this month, an inquest into the Metropolitan Police’s investigation into Port’s murders of four men – Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth and Jack Taylor – concluded that three of them “probably” could have been avoided if the police had not missed opportunities.

A group of UK MPs has meanwhile called for a public inquiry into claims of institutional homophobia in the police.

Speaking at a Royal Television Society Q&A, via Deadline, Merchant described the behaviour of the police as “chilling”. He blamed their failings on a “lack of communication” as well as “mediocre people hired in high positions of authority”.

The actor added: “The families were knocking on the door begging to offer information. This isn’t Stalin’s Russia where people disappear and you can’t get answers from the authorities, this is a country that prides itself on democracy.

“And it’s not just the police. There is something not working in these structures and it’s worrying that we don’t ask questions over how these things are run.”

In response to the inquest earlier this month, the Met’s assistant commissioner Helen Ball said in a statement: “Our thoughts are with everybody who loved these young men. We are so sorry for their loss.

“And we’re also deeply sorry that there were failings in the police response to the murders. I give my own and the Met’s heartfelt apologies…

“We’ve been working to rebuild trust in the Met for some time now and we completely accept that people’s trust in us has been damaged by a number of recent events.

“What has happened in connection with the deaths of these four young men is part of that damage and we know it has a particular impact on communities local to Barking and LGBT+ communities across London.”

Merchant said he was “anxious” when he was first approached to play the lead role of Port over fears that the series would “sensationalise” the murderer.

“But I realised that’s not what the script was,” he said. “It reminded me of the shark in Jaws in that the shark is unknowable but the impact of his actions is what’s of interest. Port is unknowable so the most you can do is try and render the banality of evil.”

The 47-year-old continued: “To me this wasn’t about making him a moustachioed villain or really creepy it was about saying, ‘Here’s a man devoid of personality.’”

The three-parter will air on BBC One on 3 January 2022. It also stars Sheridan Smith and Jaime Winstone as relatives of two of the murdered men.

In 2016, Port was sentenced to life imprisonment for his crimes.

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