13:41, February 21 337 0 theguardian.com

2018-02-21 13:41:07
The Guardian view on Worboys and the police: moral and legal dereliction

There is no doubt that the Metropolitan police committed terrible errors in their handling the case of John Worboys, the “black cab” rapist who was convicted in 2009. But the Met nonetheless appealed against a high court ruling that its failings amounted to infringement of the victims’ human rights. That appeal was rejected on Wednesday by the supreme court. The women at the centre of the case were two among the many, perhaps over 200, who were attacked by Worboys. But he was charged with only a handful of offences and convicted years after the first assault was reported. The court has now confirmed, wisely, that this delay was a grievous failure of justice.

Critics will argue that the case sets a dangerous precedent, inviting everyone who feels ill-served by the police to escalate their complaint into a claim of human rights abuse. The ruling explicitly dismisses that risk. The police argued that the relevant clauses of human rights legislation, covering protection against “inhuman or degrading treatment”, envisaged abuse by the state. While the process plainly went wrong with Worboys, the existence of a process proved that the state was not the abuser. The court was unimpressed by this logic. It found instead that police disregard for Worboys’ victims was a dereliction of the state’s duty of care to its citizens. The only precedent set is a good one: the police are accountable if they fail to apply the law against rape.

The Met did not do its legal duty. Victims had been sexually assaulted. When they turned to the police, they were denied their fundamental rights. The suspicion arises that this happened because the victims were women. The original high court ruling pointed to malpractice and neglect over six years. This included police not believing victims, denigrating them as drunks or drug addicts, failing to make connections between incidents and, in questioning Worboys, handling him with blokeish generosity. Would this have been the case had there been a pattern of violent crime, a single suspect and scores of male victims? The answer is no.

The question of justice being seen to be done in this case continues to shape how the law operates. The rapist remains in prison despite a controversial parole board decision to approve his release. That a notoriously manipulative predator, who denied his guilt as recently as 2015, no longer posed any threat was difficult to swallow. Yet three experienced members of the parole board came to that conclusion. Why they did so remains confidential, but may not remain so for much longer, as victims’ lawyers have been given permission to challenge in court the decision to free Worboys. Transparency in the parole process has been opposed on the grounds that opening up the board’s decision would see courts clogged with prisoners challenging a judicial body’s choices. But keeping the parole process shrouded in darkness corrodes trust in the system. Victims of crime, and also of police malpractice, rightly demand that light be allowed in.

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