As outrage grows over the decision to free serial sex attacker, the finger of blame is pointed at organisations – the police, the courts – which could have kept him in jail
Numerous organisations – the police, the courts, the parole board – have been involved in the case of “black-cab rapist” John Worboys, 60, due to be released within days after being jailed indefinitely in April 2009 for serious sexual offences against at least 12 women. As outrage from politicians and the public grows over the decision to free him eight years and nine months into his sentence, we examine the extent to which Warboys’ victims may have been let down, and by whom.
The Metropolitan police have been accused of repeatedly failing victims throughout, and following, the case of serial sex attacker Worboys.
The first report later linked to Worboys was made as far back as 2002. Several more involving strikingly similar experiences were made before police noticed a pattern and charged Worboys in 2008. Police sent 105 files to the Crown Prosecution Service; campaigners warn the real number of victims of one of Britain’s most prolific sex attackers could be much higher.
In 2010 the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) ruled that Worboys remained free to continue preying on women because police officers made serious mistakes and failed to take victims seriously.
He was initially arrested in 2007, but released without charge after officers believed his version of events. His home and cab were not searched. His victim, then a 19-year-old student, told police the cabbie persuaded her to have a drink and forced a pill into her mouth. She woke up with bruises and her tampon was missing. She later told the Guardian that police laughed when she described her injuries. “[The police officers] said I must have been drunk and fallen over. I was not believed. They talked down to me as if it was my fault, as if I was the criminal, and I just felt they didn’t take me seriously,” she said.
In a crime report a detective constable wrote: “The victim cannot remember anything past getting in the cab. It would seem unlikely that a cab driver would have alcohol in his vehicle, let alone drug substances.” A forensic scientist stated there were no “date-rape” drugs in the victim’s system, but other substances were present. The officer recorded that “it is a mystery” how those drugs got into her system.
Another woman assaulted in May 2003 told the IPCC her injuries were not photographed, witness statements were not taken, she was not believed and that papers were lost.
The IPCC upheld complaints against five out of eight Metropolitan police officers. It recommended that two police officers should be given written warnings and three should receive advice.
The former Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, expressed “deep concerns” over failures in the Worboys inquiry.
The Crown Prosecution Service
The Crown Prosecution Service has also been criticised for failing victims, and has come under increasing pressure to explain why it did not bring further cases when more women came forward. The House of Commons justice committee has said there were “questions for the CPS to answer about their charging decisions in this case.”
In 2010 the Met police said the allegations were investigated, but no further action was taken on the advice of the CPS. In October 2010 the CPS said it had considered “between 35 and 40 case files” leading up to Worboys’ conviction, but had seen “no new material” since then. On Friday the CPS said 19 new complainants had come forward to police. One of these was put forward to the CPS but was deemed not to pass the evidential test.
Keir Starmer, now the shadow Brexit secretary, was the director of public prosecutions (DPP) following the 2009 trial. Speaking to reporters outside his home on Friday, he said the CPS held the file on the case and urged other victims to come forward. “[The CPS] made the decisions in the case and it is really important that [journalists] go to them to get an accurate read-out of the decisions that have been made,” he said.
Worboys was jailed indefinitely by Mr Justice Penry-Davey at Croydon crown court in 2009 and told he had to serve a minimum of eight years. The maximum sentence for rape under CPS guidelines is life imprisonment.
The type of sentence he received, known as imprisonment for public protection (IPP), was introduced in 2003 and designed to be used in the case of serious offenders, many of them sex criminals. It was scrapped in 2012 after a Strasbourg court ruled that it violated human rights, with thousands of prisoners remaining in behind bars long beyond minimum tariffs.
Penry-Davey told Worboys: “You sexually abused young women who had trusted you to take them home safely late at night as it was your duty in the circumstances to do.” But the sentence was immediately criticised. Dave Gee, then a government rape adviser, said the tariff had “not gone down well”.
He said: “The CPS are not happy. Eight years appears to be on the low side when you consider that rape can carry a sentence of life imprisonment. How do you qualify it against the level of offending?”
Women’s groups at the time were furious about the sentence, but the former attorney-general Baroness Scotland of Asthal did not refer the sentence back to the courts, despite the outcry.
The parole board
The parole board that took the decision to release Worboys has come under a barrage of attacks from campaigners against sexual violence, MPs, lawyers and the public.
The chairman of the parole board, Nick Hardwick, was forced to apologise “unreservedly” after it emerged that some victims were not told about his release.
Harriet Wistrich, a lawyer who represents two of Worboys’ victims, said neither had been warned in advance. One had felt she should not have had to “receive the news and see his face everywhere while cooking tea for her children”, said Wistrich.
Specialist abuse lawyer Richard Scorer, whose firm represented 11 of the victims, said they were “devastated”. He said the parole board must reveal whether “manipulative and dangerous” Worboys had admitted to his crimes and shown remorse.
Many have criticised the fact that the parole board’s decision – or its makeup – cannot be made public.
Sarah Green, co-director of the End Violence Against Women coalition, said: “The parole decision-making is done by three people whose credentials are unknown. They are not necessarily sex offence experts. Their decision is likely to include input from psychiatrists and psychologists, and their ability to estimate risk and the likelihood to reoffend is questionable.”
Hardwick defended the decision saying he was “confident” that 60-year-old Worboys would not reoffend. But campaigners said the decision called the entire process of parole into question. Yvette Cooper, Chair of the House of Commons home affairs select committee, said there were “serious questions” to be answered and called for the Parole Board to publish its decisions, but Hardwick said the board was forbidden by law from disclosing details.
Campaigners have condemned the prime minister, Theresa May, in the wake of Worboys’ release, saying she backed the Metropolitan police in taking two of of his victims to the supreme court while home secretary.
The pair – known as DSD and NBV – initially took the police to court for a failure to properly investigate their allegations. The high court ruled in 2014 that the womens’ human rights had been breached, and the police had a duty under the Human Rights Act to investigate serious violence against women and could be held accountable in the courts if they didn’t.
The court of appeal upheld the ruling, but the supreme court heard the case last March and is due to deliver a judgment in the coming weeks on the civil case.
Victim NBV said: “I cannot believe that on the one hand the government says it is committed to tackling violence against women, and on the other hand they are strongly backing a case that will remove women’s rights.”
The outcome will have far-reaching implications for the police – it could mean that forces in future could be held responsible for failures to arrest suspects.
What happens next?
Worboys’ victims can have little hope that the parole board’s decision will be reversed. As an independent body, its recommendation cannot be overturned by the Ministry of Justice. Parole board decisions have been challenged by judicial review, but only when the prisoner has been denied release.
The Metropolitan police said on Friday there was no current investigation into further allegations against Worboys. “As no new information has been received at this time, there is currently no live Met investigation. Should any further information come to light it will be fully investigated,” said a spokesperson.
In a statement on Friday the CPS admitted that it had not taken forward the cases of three victims before the trial, having decided “there were sufficient counts on the indictment” for the judge “to impose an appropriate sentence in the event of conviction.”
During the investigation the files of 83 separate women were referred to the CPS, with the cases of 14 victims taken forward.
After Worboys was found guilty the CPS said police were contacted by a further 19 women. But the CPS told police that it would only be in the public interest to pursue any rape allegations, as sexual assault or drugging would not add to Worboys’ sentence. Police put forward one file, which the CPS deemed not to pass the evidential test.
“The police were advised they should consult with the CPS at any time with any concerns or for further advice,” said a spokesperson. They added that neither the initial DPP in the Worboys case, Lord Ken Macdonald, nor the subsequent DPP Sir Keir Starmer, “had any involvement in the decision-making behind this case.”
Hardwick has said he wanted to make the parole board’s decisions more transparent, but the process is likely to be long and arduous – giving little comfort to Worboys’ victims.