14:32, January 05 48 0 theguardian.com

2018-01-05 14:32:03
How the establishment failed victims of 'black cab rapist' John Worboys

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 police

The Metropolitan police have been accused of repeatedly failing victims throughout, and following, the case of serial sex attacker Worboys.

Q&A

Why is John Worboys being released and can the decision be reversed?

The Parole Board is able to assess the continued risk posed by prisoners based on psychiatrist and prison guard reports at Parole Board hearings that take place around once a year for each offender. Some of the hearings are oral, some of them written.

In November, a three-person panel of the Parole Board directed the release of Worboys, following an oral hearing. He will be released back into society under strict monitoring on a licence period of at least 10 years.

Parole Board hearings are held in private and reasons for release are not made public, although a consultation is to be launched on how the body shares its decision-making with the public.

The Parole Board is an independent body and its recommendation for Worboys’ release cannot be overturned by the Ministry of Justice.

There are examples of Parole Board decisions being challenged by judicial review in the courts, but only when the prisoner has been denied release.

Read a fuller explainer on John 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.

Timeline

John Worboys case

Victim one drugged by Worboys

When she comes to, the victim finds Worboys attempting to put his hand inside her underwear. She reports it to the police

Victim two drugged

Remembers nothing more

Victim three given a drugged drink which she rejects

She escapes without being assaulted

Victim four drugged

Remembers Worboys kissing her, but nothing more. The following day her legs are bruised

Victim five drugged

Remembers nothing more

Victim six claimed she was drugged, but insisted on being taken home without being assaulted. Worboys was found not guilty of administering a drug with intent

Victim seven picked up later the same evening. Drugged and sexually assaulted while unconscious, finding her tampon missing the following day. She reports it to the police

Worboys arrested

Worboys arrested after his cab's licence plate was identified on CCTV from the building where victim seven lived. Released on police bail and no further action is taken

Case dropped against Worboys
Victim eight drugged and raped

She reports the attack to police

Victim nine drugged and sexually assaulted

She reports the attack to police

Victim 10 claimed she was drugged

Worboys was found not guilty of administering a drug with intent

Victim 11 drugged

Remembers finding her skirt pushed to her waist. Later discovers from police that she had been forcibly penetrated with a vibrator

Victim 12 drugged and almost certainly raped

She goes to the police

Victim 13 drugged
Victim 14 drugged

The court heard she lost a wristband which was later found at Worboys' home. 

Worboys arrested at 10am on suspicion of repeated sexual assaults

Worboys charged with offences against six women

Total later rises to 14 as more victims come forward 

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.

The courts

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. Chair of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee Yvette Cooper 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.

The government

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 women’s 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.