Friend of Stephen Port victim shares biggest takeaway from true crime drama Four Lives

Stephen Port, who murdered Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth and Jack Taylor

John Pape, a friend of Stephen Port victim Gabriel Kovari, and Rufus Jones, the actor who plays him in the new BBC drama Four Lives, want the show to “maintain social pressure” on the Metropolitan Police.

The three-part series will begin on Monday, 3 January, on BBC One, and follows the families of Port’s young victims – Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, and Daniel Whitworth, and Jack Taylor – in their desperate attempts to push police to properly investigate their deaths.

Kovari, from Slovakia, found a friend in Pape when he moved to London and needed somewhere to stay.

Pape told PinkNews: “I offered my spare room… I could empathise with any young LGBT+ person who wants to come to a place where they can be themselves.”

Their friendship was close, but only lasted around six weeks before 22-year-old Kovari was murdered in Barking by Grindr serial killer Port.

“He said he’d found somewhere to stay out in East London,” said Pape.

“He moved out, and I’ll always regret not having asked more about where he was going.

“Five or six days later, the police were at my door telling me that he’d been found dead in a graveyard in Barking.”

“He was a really decent, smart, intelligent, considerate, creative, talented young guy, and he would have led a really interesting life, I think,” he added. “So it’s a real tragedy.”

Rufus Jones as John Pape in the BBC Stephen Port drama Four Lives

Rufus Jones as John Pape in the BBC Stephen Port drama Four Lives. (YouTube/ BBC)

John Pape knew Rufus Jones, the actor that plays him, for years before the Stephen Port drama Four Lives was created

Like many of the friends and families of Stephen Port’s victims, John Pape was very involved in pushing the police to investigate the men’s deaths as suspicious.

During this time, Pape was a producer and worked with actor Rufus Jones on voiceovers for the channel Comedy Central. Years later, Jones would be cast to play him in Four Lives. 

When he was cast, Jones told PinkNews that he called Pape and arranged for them to meet  for “quite a few drinks” in Soho.

He said: “We got to know each other very well, almost retrospectively, for the first time, having known each other for years professionally.

“We had this incredibly intimate conversation about the circumstances of his situation with Gabriel, and everything he had been doing.”

Pape added: “[He] didn’t have to call me and have that chat with me, but I’m really glad that [he] did.

“I’m not a religious man, but I think it’s like a Godsend that [Jones] played that part, because it made it so much more comfortable, that we’d had that chat together, that I had the chance to explain it all, from my point of view.”

For Jones, it gave him the “those emotional kind of ins into the motivation of a real life person”.

He said: “Just being relaxed around one another is just, for me personally as a performer, really important.

Because otherwise you can find yourself tiptoeing around a character while you’re filming. This may sound weird, but you can pay a character too much respect. And in doing so, don’t get to the heart of something, because you’re slightly afraid to go there.

“I think with John, I just had a real simpatico with him, and that only comes through meeting someone.”

Both John Pape and Rufus Jones hope Four Lives can raise awareness and create change

The release of Four Lives was originally set for 2020, but it had to be delayed due to the inquest into the Metropolitan Police’s handling of Stephen Port’s crimes.

However, before the jury deliberated, coroner Sarah Munro QC told them that institutional homophobia and discrimination by officers had to be ruled out as a contributing factors in the deaths of Port’s victims.

Rufus Jones said: “There was always the possibility that institutional homophobia would be something that was found to be palpably present in the Met as a result of the inquest, and from what I understand, the inquest fell short of that accusation.

“I remember at the time [of filming] thinking the institutional prejudice here at play, although they are very different cases, to me rang bells with what I knew about the institutional racism findings of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry.

“Obviously, that hasn’t happened as a result of the inquest for a number of reasons. But shows like this can maintain social awareness and, hopefully, a social pressure on the Met to do practical things to educate and train their officers, at a time when the Met has not had its finest year. When does it ever have its finest year?

“But it’s important in among everything that is happening right now, that a case like this is is remembered, and a campaign for change is maintained.”

John Pape added: “I hope the show achieves a wider awareness of a problem that we have with the Metropolitan Police.

“I have gone on record as saying [there is] institutional prejudice and institutional homophobia, but one point that is probably worth making is just the sheer incompetence of it, as well… Their own defence was saying, ‘We’re not prejudiced, we’re just incompetent.’

“I mean, how shocking is that? That they’re basically admitting to being incompetent and being indolent… I just want more people to know about that.

“Because it’s a danger to all communities, an incompetent police force.”