Three victims of the serial killer Stephen Port might still be alive today were it not for a shoddy police investigation that was the result of “ineptitude, poor systems and underfunding”, the producer of a new drama about the crimes has said.
Jeff Pope is senior producer of Four Lives, a dramatisation for BBC One of the murders of four young gay men: Anthony Walgate, 23; Gabriel Kovari, 22; Daniel Whitworth, 21; and Jack Taylor, 21.
It stars Stephen Merchant as Port and Sheridan Smith as Sarah Sak, the mother of Walgate, who campaigned to prove her son had been drugged, raped and murdered. The initial police finding was that the death was unexplained but not suspicious.
Pope said that when they started on the project he thought the failure to investigate Walgate’s death properly was going to be a story of “rampant homophobia” in the police. “But it’s actually more worrying than that,” he told the Radio Times. “The shoddy investigation was due to ineptitude, poor systems, underfunding.”
Pope said that with cases such as the abduction and murder of Sarah Everard by the serving Met police officer Wayne Couzens, “it has become common to describe the police as ‘dysfunctional’ or ‘not fit for purpose’. So, in that sense, Four Lives is the story of the day. In this case, the dysfunctionality led to deaths. If they’d investigated Anthony Walgate’s killing properly, the other three men would still be alive.”
Pope has been involved, as writer or producer, in some of the most watched and well-received real crime dramas of recent years, including about the serial killers Fred and Rose West.
Pope said he was most shocked to discover that the reason the first Stephen Port murder was not investigated as suspicious, instead recorded as unexplained, was that it saved money. “Because a suspicious death costs more, as it involves searching laptops and forensic tests.”
All four families of the victims gave consent or cooperation to the production. It was ready for transmission a year ago but has been delayed because of inquests into the deaths. Those inquests concluded this month when a jury found that police failings probably contributed to three of the four deaths.
Pope and the writer Neil McKay are also working on a dramatisation of Jimmy Savile’s crimes, starring Steve Coogan. They said a future project, could be the Manchester Arena bombings of 2017.