Police chiefs have said dating services must take more responsibility for protecting its users, after Stephen Port was yesterday found guilty of murdering four men he met online.
The statement comes as the Metropolitan Police faces strong criticism over its handling of the case.
Allegations have been made that Scotland Yard and the police missed opportunities to stop serial killer Port, having arrested the Barking chef after the death of the first victim, Anthony Walgate.
Walgate, 23, from Barnet, was found dead outside Port’s flat in Barking in June 2014.
And although Port was picked up by police after making an emergency call, he was only found to have lied to officers, and was charged with perverting the course of justice and released on bail.
The four murders were only linked after the death of the fourth victim, Jack Taylor, who was found in the ruins of Barking Abbey last September.
Yesterday, Scotland Yard announced that 17 officers are currently the subject of an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) probe into the handling of the killings.
Despite allegations of police mistakes, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) today spoke about how dating apps and services could also do more to help keep their users safe online.
Chief Constable Jane Sawyers, the police lead for LGBT issues, told the BBC that while such companies had a role in “signposting people to the police” after potential crimes, they could also “do more to prevent the offences in the first place”.
Sawyers said they could also tell users to “get to know the person, not the profile”, as well as carrying warnings about fake accounts and profiles.
And despite admitting there was a stigma around reporting crimes that occurred from gay dating apps, Sawyers said: “There shouldn’t be any concerns about gay people reporting things to police … we’re not there to judge, what we’re interested in is justice for the individual.”
The sisters of victim Jack Taylor disagreed with this assessment speaking yesterday outside of court, saying: “We felt from the beginning, it was just “another one” and nothing was taken seriously.
“If it had been a woman, there would have been more done. It’s ridiculous. We had to fight from the beginning. We kept pushing for an investigation.”
Yesterday, Stephen Port was found guilty of drugging & murdering four young men after meeting them on a number of dating services.
During the trial, the court heard how Port had met his victims on dating services, including the gay hook-up app Grindr, before poisoning and killing the men by giving them large quantities of the drug GHB.
Jonathan Rees QC prosecuting said: “All of the offending behaviour was driven by one main factor, namely the defendant’s appetite for having sexual intercourse with younger, gay males while they were unconscious through drugs.
“This is a case about a man who in the pursuit of nothing more than his own sexual gratification, variously drugged, sexually assaulted and in four cases killed young gay men he had invited back to his flat.”
The ruling comes after recent reports that there has been a 2,000% increase in the number of crimes involving dating apps like Tinder & Grindr since 2012.
Speaking about the rise in crimes stemming from dating apps, Norfolk chief constable Simon Bailey said: “The rising popularity of online dating apps and websites has contributed to an increase in the number of recorded crimes.
“We strongly encourage users to report offences and seek support if they become a victim of any type of crime.
“I would urge those who use online dating apps to be as security-conscious as possible and not to share personal data with anyone until they are sure about those they are communicating with.”
Replying to these warnings, the new chief executive of the UK’s online dating industry trade body, the Online Dating Association, Andrew McClelland said:
“We live in a world where much of our contact is now online. Some apps are location based making it easy to meet up with someone nearby and sometimes users aren’t always focused on safety when doing so.
“Users should remember that exchanging a few messages online does not mean you know someone and that person is still a stranger. It’s always best to meet in public and get to know someone before agreeing to meet privately.”
Read more about the Port case here.