11:26, January 09 216 0 theguardian.com

2018-01-09 11:26:04
Minister rejects call for in-depth inquiry into John Worboys case

The new justice secretary, David Gauke, has rejected calls for an “end-to-end inquiry” into the case of the serial sex attacker John Worboys, who is about to be released from prison.

But he backed proposals for greater transparency from the Parole Board in explaining why offenders are freed and how assessments of future risks are conducted.

Meanwhile, one of Worboys’ victims, who testified against him in his criminal trial, has said she feels “terrified” at the prospect of his release because she believes he knows where she and other victims live.

Responding to Gauke’s comments, she said: “Worboys knows where I live. How do I know he’s not going to come after me? I’m terrified. Why wouldn’t I be? The most important thing now is that the Parole Board tell us how they came to this decision before he is released.

“This man was a prolific sex attacker for 5-10 years, probably more. Some reports suggest he might have had hundreds of victims, while he dismissed his actions as ‘banter’. He showed no remorse.

“Reports also suggest that just two years ago he still believed he had done nothing wrong. How on earth can this man now be deemed safe? I was assured by the police that Worboys would never be released from prison as he would always pose a serious threat to women. What has changed?”

She added: “The justice secretary has today suggested that the law could be changed retrospectively, which would allow us victims to be told why the Parole Board has made this decision. That must now happen as soon as possible. Until it does, we can have zero confidence that he won’t reoffend.”

Gauke said in a Commons statement that a review to be completed by Easter would be limited to how far the Parole Board can go in explaining its decisions about individual offenders and improving its relationship with victims. He said he doubted whether retrospective changes could be made.

He said one victim who had asked to be kept informed of Worboys’ release had not received an email that was sent out. He defended the board’s work, referring to the hundreds of pages of evidence it had considered in the Worboys case. He said Worboys’ crimes were “horrific”.

The former black-cab driver was convicted in 2009 of one count of rape, five sexual assaults, one attempted assault and 12 drugging charges.

Gauke said: “While it appears that the correct procedures were followed [by the Parole Board], the fact that some victims learned of the decision [to free Worboys] from the media suggests that there is a need to review these procedures and examine whether lessons can be learned and improvements can be made.

“There is a strong case to review the case for transparency in the process for parole decisions and how victims are appropriately engaged in that process, and consider the case for changes in policy, practice or the Parole Board rules, or other guidance or procedures including the victims’ code.”

Gauke rejected calls from Labour’s justice spokesman, Richard Burgon, for an “end-to-end review” of the Worboys case, including the way the initial police investigation and the prosecution were handled.

“The public is asking questions about police failings and why there were no further prosecutions,” Burgon said. “The Worboys case raises so many questions that anything less than an end-to-end review would let down the victims and the wider public.”

He said the justice system had been subjected “to the greatest level of cuts” of any government department, and privatisation of the probation service, which is supposed to liaise with victims, had been left in a “chaotic” state.

Mike Penning, a former police minister, called for an investigation into why the Crown Prosecution Service had not pursued charges relating to complaints from other victims.

The Conservative MP Anna Soubry, a barrister, said a geographical condition should be imposed on Worboys’ release preventing him from returning to Greater London, where most his victims live.

The Metropolitan police has not received any fresh information relating to Worboys and is not currently investigating him.

A judicial review of the Parole Board’s decision to release Worboys could yet be launched by lawyers on behalf of his victims. Harriet Wistrich, a solicitor who represents two victims who have taken their claim for compensation over police failures to the supreme court, said this week: “We are looking at any way we can to challenge the decision on his release.”

The probation service has told victims that Worboys release licence will include a condition “not to approach or communicate, directly or indirectly, the victims ... without prior approval of the supervising officer”.

It said that his conditions will include reporting to a supervising offender manager every week and that he will be under supervision for at least ten years. Any breach of the licence conditions can result in Worboys being recalled to prison, it told victims.

One victim has also asked for assurances that he won’t be able to come to London, where his crimes took place, although that would be an unusual move outside of counter terrorism legislation.

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