openDemocracyUK: Opinion

I covered Stephen Port’s murders. I know Cressida Dick’s departure isn’t enough

As a gay journalist, I connected the dots on the killings before the Met Police did – and was intimidated by police for doing my job

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Ramzy Alwakeel
11 February 2022, 5.13pm
I covered Stephen Port’s murders, and connected the dots before the Met Police did
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Composite by opendemocracy, via Alamy. All rights reserved

The discovery of two young men lying dead in the same churchyard just weeks apart was “unusual” and “slightly confusing”, the local police chief admitted, but there was “nothing suspicious” about it.

It was the summer of 2014 and I was the news editor at a local paper in east London. We now know that the serial killer Stephen Port had just murdered Gabriel Kovari and Daniel Whitworth in Barking town centre. Weeks earlier, Port had killed Anthony Walgate in very similar circumstances. Men kept turning up dead, yet the police ignored all our questions. We had to threaten to write a story about their silence before they agreed to talk. It took a week.

I believe that officers had made a series of assumptions about Kovari and Whitworth by the time we spoke to them, based on two facts: they were both gay, and they both had the drug GHB in their blood. Whitworth had been found with a badly faked suicide note that didn’t even match his handwriting yet was enough for the police to effectively close the case.

Without knowing any of this, we began to connect the dots in the article we ran the day after the detective's bizarre interview.

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A year passed. Port’s fourth victim, Jack Taylor, was found dead in the summer of 2015. Thanks to pressure from Taylor’s family, CCTV from his final hours was found and circulated. Only then, finally, did the penny drop for the cops.

Anyone who has ever had to phone the Met’s press office ten times in a week to chase an unanswered question will know that the police do not particularly cherish their relationship with journalists.

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Cressida Dick
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Nor have the police, in the UK and elsewhere, historically been a friend to LGBTQ+ people, a group to which Port’s victims and I all belong. It was the police who raided Stonewall. It was the police who broke into our homes and bars and arrested us for sex work and ‘immigration offences’ and locked us up so we could be electrocuted or chemically castrated or deported. Without their enforcement, the homophobic and transphobic laws passed by successive governments of all colours would have meant nothing.

I once spent an hour sitting in the graveyard where Port left his victims, being interviewed for a TV documentary. Because he was facing me, the interviewer did not realise that a police officer had wandered up behind him, and was making eye contact with me and listening to every word I said. I should have stopped and asked him what he wanted. But it was intimidating. It was also kind of humiliating. Nothing makes you aware of yourself like a cop staring at you. At that moment, I was acutely aware of being both a journalist and being gay.

There is a wider context to this. To be queer is to challenge the value system that reinforces gender roles and places the nuclear family – as the site where labour is reproduced – at the centre of society. Either this is resolved by the co-option of our queerness – marriage, mainstream political life, homeownership, raising children – or it is resolved by violence, by the policing of our lives and bodies. I'm a middle-class man who passes as white (until someone asks for my name), so I get a relatively easy ride. But in that churchyard I felt vulnerable to the thing I was trying to speak out about. I also felt embarrassed for feeling vulnerable.

The cosy images of officers dancing at Pride parades are a lie. LGBTQ+ people should not feel comfortable around the police

The cosy images of officers dancing at Pride parades are a lie. We should not feel comfortable around the police. The idea that they are there to protect us has been repeatedly challenged by their own actions, especially against women and people from marginalised groups. You have heard of George Floyd, Jack Taylor, Sarah Everard, Jean Charles De Menezes, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman. Today, openDemocracy revealed that hundreds of officers across England, Scotland and Wales had kept their jobs after sending abusive messages on social media.

People within the Black Lives Matter movement have been arguing for years that minority groups are over-policed and under-served. I don’t think I can put it any better than this.

Cressida Dick will get no sympathy from me. But we must not lose sight of the fact that the problem with policing is far more fundamental than any one person can change.

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