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Drugged, robbed and left for dead

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In 2016, Stephen Port was sentenced to life in prison. He was found guilty on charges committed against 11 men that included administering a substance, sexual assault, rape and the murder of four men. Now, his drug dealer has also been sentenced, to 31 years in prison. But Gerald Matovu’s complicity in the so-called Grindr murders is only the start of the story.

Like most serial killers, chef Stephen Port had a type: young men in their 20s, with similar builds, who Port would find on Grindr. He would then spike their drinks with fatal doses of GHB and rape them, before dumping their bodies in the area in which he lived in.

The first, Anthony Walgate, was found in the hall of Port’s East London building; the bodies of Gabriel Kovari and Daniel Whitworth were found propped against a wall in the same graveyard, weeks apart; a year later, Jack Taylor’s body was found in that graveyard once again. All were gay and had died from drug overdoses. Port set up their bodies so they looked like they had taken the drugs themselves. He even wrote a fake suicide note for Whitworth, which took responsibility for Kovari’s death.

Port was arrested in 2014 for perverting the course of justice after he was caught lying about his involvement in the death of Anthony Walgate. His computer was seized but not searched (if it had been, important evidence would have been found, such as his online searches for 'unconscious boys' and 'drugged and raped'). Walgate’s friends pressured police to dig further, but were left frustrated. It was while he was out on bail that he murdered the next two men.

The police didn’t see a connection and took the deaths at face value, ignoring the advice of the Met’s LGBT independent advisory group that were among those that warned of a serial killer. The families of the victims sued the Metropolitan Police, claiming that homophobia stopped them from linking the deaths earlier. Following Port’s sentence, the Met reinvestigated the cases of 58 other date-rape deaths.

Three years later and the person who supplied Port with drugs, Gerald Matovu, has also been sentenced, but not for his role in the Grindr killings. Matovu was convicted for that during the investigation into Port and sentenced to community service. This time, the charges against him were yet more serious: theft, fraud, sexual assault and murder.

His complicity in the Grindr murders aside, in many ways, Matovu’s crimes mirrored Port’s. Like Port, Matovu also targeted victims—gay men— using dating apps like Grindr. He would then also use GHB to leave them unconscious.

Unlike Port, Matovu wasn’t motivated by murder. Matovu was a fraudster and thief. With his lover, Brandon Dunbar, Matovu would arrange meetings with men he met on the dating apps, drug them to render them unconscious and then take their bank card details and other personal information, photographing personal documents, as well as taking their personal belongings, including televisions and even a victim’s coat. He continued to do this to men across London.

That fundamental difference between Port and Matovu changed, though, when Matovu met 54-year-old Eric Michels, a businessman and part-time actor who had once had a part in a James Bond film.

Like his other victims, Matovu connected with Michels on Grindr, arranged to meet at Michels’ house and when he was there, injected Michels with GHB. He then photographed documents with Michels’ personal information on them, including his bank card and driver’s licence. He spent hours in Michels’ house, only leaving the next morning.

Unlike Matovu’s other victims, though, Michels was killed by the drug overdose. His children found his body in his home the next day, with the syringe that was used lying near to him. Stolen possessions from other victims were also found.

In court, the prosecution stated that it hadn’t been Matovu’s intent to kill Michels, but to render him deeply unconscious so they could steal from him. This was a pattern of Matovu’s, after all. In fact, another victim followed Michels. He survived the attack, but was found naked on the street. A blowtorch had been used, leaving wounds on his buttocks and he too had been robbed, before being left on the street. After Michels’ murder, the connection was made between the rest of the victims and Matovu.

In total, it is thought Matovu targeted at least a dozen men, 11 of whom had photos of their bank cards taken and 10 of whom had other property stolen. Five of them contacted the police, but there was seemingly little response. Eight were drugged. He was found guilty of the murder and 38 other offences that included drug possession, assault by penetration, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and administering noxious substances. He’s the first person since Stephen Port to be convicted of murdering someone with an overdose of GHB.

Similarly to Port, Matovu’s conviction also brings with it questions over the police’s handling of the case. Michels’ two sons have asked why Matovu wasn’t caught sooner, despite reports from their victims to the police. If he had been, would Michels still be alive? It’s one question among others surrounding these two cases: would Stephen Port’s three victims that followed Anthony Walgate’s murder be alive today if police had recognised the signs back then? And is homophobia to blame for the fact that not enough was done?