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Stephen Merchant has opened up on what it was like to play the 'Grindr killer' Stephen Port.
Merchant, 47, is starring in the BBC true crime drama Four Lives by Jeff Pope and Neil McKay, which tells the story of the four young men who were murdered by Port, who found his victims on the dating app, Grindr.
The drama focuses on the victims - Anthony Walgate, 23, Gabriel Kovari, 22, Daniel Whitworth, 21 and Jack Taylor, 25 - and their loved ones.
You can watch the trailer below:
The drama also looks at how the cases were handled, with an inquest finding that failings by the Met Police 'probably' contributed to three of the four murders.
Speaking about playing Port, Merchant told the Telegraph that he was “really unsettled, really upset” to learn how long the police took to arrest Port.
“When I first read the script, I wanted to believe that some of the many police errors in the investigation must have been overstated for dramatic purposes. But they weren’t, were they?” He said.
The drama focuses on Anthony Walgate's mum Sarah Sak (played by Sheridan Smith) who doesn't believe the initial police story that Anthony died from a drug overdose.
Anthony was 23 when he was killed by Port. He was a fashion student who occasionally worked as an escort, and was contacted by Port who offered him £800 to spend the night with him.
While together, Port gave Anthony a fatal overdose of GHB, before moving him outside his apartment and calling an ambulance.
Anthony was already dead when emergency services arrived, but the call was tracked to Port, who told police that Anthony had given himself the drug. He was released on bail.
Port went on to murder Gabriel Kovari, 22, whose body was found in St Margaret’s Churchyard by a dog walker. Gabriel had also been given a fatal overdose of GHB, but no connection was made, despite a message Gabriel had sent a friend revealing he had been staying with Port.
Three weeks later and Daniel Whitworth, 21, was found in the same churchyard, with a fake suicide note written by Port. In it, he says he took Gabriel's life accidentally, before taking his own out of guilt.
In September 2015, Port took the life of his final victim - Jack Taylor, 25, who was found in the same churchyard. Despite the similarities, his death was also deemed as non-suspicious. It was only when a parks officer - with no previous experience - found CCTV footage of Jack with Port that he was arrested for all four murders.
“The [police made] assumptions that these young men died of drug overdoses, from drugs they wrongly assumed would be known and understood by the gay community. Murder wasn’t even considered," Merchant continued.
“I don’t feel I have the authority to say that the Met are institutionally homophobic. But it’s hard not to look at the decisions that were – or were not– taken in this case and not feel that homophobia was informing some of it. The thing that was so shocking to me, reading the script, was that it felt like the whiff of prejudice could have come from the early 1980s. I had to keep reminding myself these were events that occurred in the mid 2010s.”
Following the inquiry, Met Police Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball apologised for the failings but denied the force was homophobic.
She said: "We don't see institutional homophobia. We don't see homophobia on the part of our officers. We do see all sorts of errors in the investigation, which came together in a truly dreadful way."
Four Lives airs on BBC One on Monday 3rd January at 9pm.
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