With a chilling sense of irony, Donna and Jenny Taylor still recall the day their younger brother, Jack, then just 17, asked if they would help him with his application to join the Army.
‘Our exact words were that we couldn’t do that as we didn’t want him to end up in Afghanistan and come back in a coffin,’ Donna recalls now.
‘We just wanted to protect him and our mum and dad. Now, it breaks our hearts to think of it, because one day he did go out and didn’t come home.’
Nor could the siblings ever have envisaged how their brother would meet his tragic end.
In September 2015, seven years later, Jack was raped and murdered by serial killer Stephen Port, a loner with a fetish for having sex with unconscious young men.
He was Port’s fourth victim — in the preceding year the then 39-year-old had lured three others to his flat in Barking, East London, and administered fatal doses of the date-rape drug GHB before dumping their bodies to make it look like accidental overdoses or suicide.
Jack Taylor (centre) alongside his sisters Donna and Jenny. After Jack’s death in September 2015, they conducted their own investigations to uncover the truth
All the men he killed were in their early 20s and their mobile phones were missing.
Three of them were found in an almost identical spot on either side of a church wall in Barking within the space of a year.
Astonishingly, police repeatedly refused to link the cases, insisting that the deaths were self-inflicted.
It was an explanation that Jack’s grieving sisters could not accept. Determined to uncover the truth, they conducted their own investigations against what felt like total indifference from the very people whose job it was to pursue justice.
‘It was as if Jack was an animal that had been left on the side of the road,’ says Donna today.
Their dedication and persistence eventually led police to Port, who in November 2016 was given a whole-life sentence for the murders of Jack and three other men: fashion student Anthony Walgate, 23, from Hull, Slovakian Gabriel Kovari, 22, and chef Daniel Whitworth, 21.
This week viewers have seen the story brought to life in the BBC drama Four Lives, which lays bare police failings and the anger of the victims’ families.
It’s not an easy watch, certainly not for Donna and Jenny — played respectively by Jaime Winstone and Stephanie Hyam — whose ongoing grief remains permanently compounded by their vehement conviction that Jack need never have died.
‘It wasn’t because of a lack of training, and it wasn’t because of a lack of funding, it was because they didn’t care,’ says Jenny. ‘They dismissed the victims as either gay or druggies.’
Stephen Port (pictured) was, in November 2016, given a whole-life sentence for the murders of the four men
Jack has been dead for more than six years now, but the sisters’ love for their younger sibling remains undimmed.
Alongside Jack, Donna, a 43-year-old nursing practitioner and mother-of-five, and Jenny, 33, a mother-of-two and a teaching assistant, were raised in a tight-knit, loving family in Dagenham by mum Jeannette, 59, a school cleaner and dad Colin, 65, a cab driver.
Even after the sisters left home, they spent every Saturday together with extended family.
A former army cadet, Jack was working night shifts as a forklift truck driver at the time of his death but — in a bitter irony not lost on his sisters — was in the process of laying the groundwork to become a police officer.
‘He’d sent off for a licence to work as a security guard, which would allow him to have days off where he could be a special constable,’ says Jenny.
‘He wanted to do something he felt would make a difference.’
Sociable and popular, he also had plenty of girlfriends, although the sisters confide that they both harboured suspicions about his sexuality.
‘Did we know he was gay? No,’ says Donna.
‘Did my sister and I have suspicions that he might be sexually curious — yes.’
Both Donna and Jenny saw their brother on the weekend of his death — Donna at the regular Friday night get-together she had with her brother at her home, and Jenny the following evening at the parental home where she lived at the time.
What they didn’t know was that, in the early hours of the morning, he had arranged to meet the man they now know to be Stephen Port, whom Jack had met through a dating site used by gay and bisexual men.
Assuming he was still in bed on Sunday morning, it wasn’t until the early afternoon that his parents realised he was missing. By evening, with many phone calls going to voicemail, their unease deepened.
By Monday morning, disquiet had been replaced by panic. During one frenzied phone call between Donna and her mum, the police arrived.
‘I heard one of the officers ask “Are you Jack Taylor’s mum and dad?” When they answered “yes” he said “he’s dead”. That was it, no “sorry”, no compassion. Mum screamed and I remember dropping to the floor in disbelief.’
Racing to her parents’ home, she found them in shock.
‘They were all over the place. It was heartbreaking.’
The family trauma was exacerbated by a vacuum of information.
‘All the police said on that initial visit was that Jack was found in a park in Barking, propped against an arch after a suspected drug overdose,’ says Donna.
‘It didn’t make sense. We knew categorically he didn’t do drugs. It wasn’t his scene — and there were random drug tests at work. We knew his friends. Also, the idea he was in this random park just didn’t ring true.’
Jack’s body had actually been found by the churchyard wall in Barking, where two of Port’s previous victims had been dumped in the preceding year.
This week viewers have seen the story of Port’s crimes brought to life in the BBC drama Four Lives, which lays bare police failings and the anger of the victims’ families. Pictured, Stephen Merchant playing Stephen Port
‘The police left saying they would be in touch. That was the last we heard from them for 11 days,’ says Donna.
‘We knew something wasn’t right. We contacted all his friends, asking where they went and whether anyone unusual was there,’ adds Jenny.
‘We also went on Facebook, looking at all his contacts and putting a star next to those we didn’t know.’
Eleven days after Jack’s death, the family were told the body could be released, although toxicology tests were ongoing. Together, the family visited the funeral director to see Jack for the final time.
‘It was horrific,’ Donna says, holding back tears.
‘You’re looking at this wonderful little soul that’s gone.’
The sisters also noticed scratches and cuts all over Jack’s hands. Even more convinced that something wasn’t right, Donna and Jenny mentioned the cuts to the police when they visited the family a couple of days later.
‘They said it was because of the weather, and implying exposure, which didn’t make any sense.’
‘They also told us Jack’s wallet was in his back pocket — where we knew he never kept it — and that he had needle marks in his right arm. We said he gave blood but also that he was right-handed so if he did inject himself, it would not be there.’
Frustrated by what they saw as police reluctance to investigate further, the pair scoured the internet, trying to come up with anything that might cast light on what had happened.
Within a couple of days they uncovered news reports of the dumping of Gabriel and Daniel’s bodies — left in a similar spot to where Jack’s body was found.
Both men were a similar age to Jack and had been found without their mobiles.
Gabriel Kovari, 22, (left) and Anthony Walgate, 23, (right) were found dead near Stephen Port’s flat
Two of Port’s four victims were Jack Taylor (left), 25, and Daniel Whitworth (right), 21
‘But, when we called police, they told us the cases were not linked,’ says Jenny.
Convinced they were on to something, the sisters asked to see the spot where Jack’s body had been found.
‘We broke down,’ says Donna.
‘Jack was a hygiene freak and there was no way in the world he’d sit at this dirty, dank spot.’
The police said Jack had been found with a small brown vial by his side and a syringe in his pocket, but in a confusing turn said the syringe had not been used, but that Jack had injected himself.
‘I asked what he had injected himself with,’ says Jenny. ‘They said they couldn’t be sure.’
The sisters were also then told that CCTV footage had shown Jack with a man in the early hours of Sunday morning — but the man had been seen walking off.
Timeline of Stephen Port’s crimes
June 4, 2014: Police find Stephen Port at Barking station in East London with a young man he had drugged who has collapsed. Port admits they had taken illegal drugs but is not arrested.
June 19: Anthony Walgate, 23, given drug overdose and raped by Port who dumps body outside his flat and calls 999, claiming he has found an unconscious man.
June 26: Port suspected of lying to police and charged with perverting the course of justice. Released on bail. He is not accused of murdering Mr Walgate.
August 28: Gabriel Kovari, 22, given an overdose and raped by Port who dumps the body against a graveyard wall.
September 20: Daniel Whitworth, 21, given a drug overdose and raped. Port dumps his body against the same graveyard wall. Mr Whitworth is wearing Mr Kovari’s top and is in a bed-sheet which has Port’s DNA on it.
October 1: Detective Chief Inspector Tony Kirk tells local paper the three deaths within a mile of each other are not being treated as suspicious.
March 23, 2015: Port jailed for perverting the course of justice by lying over Mr Walgate’s death. Released on licence in June with an electronic tag.
June 2015: Inquests into the deaths of Mr Kovari and Mr Whitworth were held, which were later set aside at the High Court in the wake of the murder trial.
September 13: Jack Taylor, 25, given a drug overdose and raped by Port. Body found next to the same graveyard.
October 15: Port arrested on suspicion of four murders and charged. Later charged with attacks on eight other men.
November 23, 2016: Port is convicted of 22 offences against 11 men, including four murders, four rapes, four assaults by penetration and 10 of administering a substance. He was cleared on three counts of rape.
November 25: Port is handed a whole-life sentence for the four murders.
‘We asked if they had tried to trace him as he was possibly the last man to see Jack alive, but they said no because Jack had then been seen on later footage walking away.’
In yet another example of a missed opportunity, it would later transpire that the man police had thought they’d seen walking away was in fact someone else — meaning the man seen with him had been the last person to see their brother alive.
Frustration mounting, Donna requested a meeting with Barking and Dagenham police, when she returned home from where Jack’s body had been found.
‘An officer called Sgt Laffan came and for two hours I told him everything we were worried about,’ says Donna.
‘I had mounds of paperwork to show him — news reports, information about Jack. I asked to see stills from the CCTV footage and he said he’d see what he could do.’
Two days later, with no further contact from the police, the sisters discovered a news report about Port’s first victim, Anthony Walgate. His body had been discovered outside the block of flats where Port lived in June 2014.
‘The location was different but everything else was identical,’ says Jenny.
‘Another young man with no phone, dead in Barking of an apparent drug overdose.’
Unbeknown to the sisters was the fact that Port himself had called 999 to report the body.
When interviewed by police, he initially denied he had ever met the fashion student, before later telling them that he had panicked after Anthony ‘accidentally’ overdosed at his flat, saying he had moved his body downstairs to deflect suspicion.
Incredibly, he was never investigated on suspicion of murder, the death was simply recorded as an overdose and the only charge made against him was for perverting the course of justice. For that he was sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment in March 2015 but was released in June the same year.
Had police recognised Anthony Walgate’s death as murder, Port’s three subsequent victims could have been saved. In fact, Gabriel Kovari was murdered while Port was out on bail and Daniel Whitworth and Jack Taylor’s murders soon followed.
Finally, a month after their brother’s body was discovered, police started connecting the dots. A police officer in Dagenham recognised Port on the CCTV footage in Jack’s case as the man who was linked to Anthony’s death.
He was arrested on October 15 and charged the next day with the murders of all four young men.
It was a bittersweet vindication.
‘We didn’t want to be right,’ Jenny says. ‘We wanted to know what had happened to our Jack.’
The case was taken over by the specialist Murders Investigation Team of the Metropolitan Police, who the sisters say handled matters with huge sensitivity.
Nonetheless, the family had to endure the horror of Jack’s body being exhumed before, finally, in November 2016, Port stood trial.
Jack’s family attended every day of its eight-week duration.
‘Sitting in a room with the monster that took our Jack’s life and hearing him tell one lie after another was the hardest thing,’ says Donna.
Equally harrowing was watching the procession of police officers take the stand. ‘You’re looking at them thinking “it’s because of you that Jack has lost his life.”’
It’s a view ratified at an inquest last December into the deaths of all four victims, when a coroner found that fundamental police failing ‘probably contributed to three of the four deaths’. There are now calls for an inquiry.
‘Life will never be the same again,’ says Donna. ‘We’re all haunted by the sense that it needn’t have happened at all,’ says Jenny. ‘It’s a terrible waste of young lives.’
Who, watching this week’s dramatisation, could possibly disagree?
Source: Daily Mail