09:22, March 28 196 0 theguardian.com

2018-03-28 09:22:10
High court overturns decision to release John Worboys

Victims of the serial sex attacker John Worboys have succeeded in forcing the Parole Board to reconsider its decision to release him from prison.

Three judges at the high court in London have ordered the Parole Board to carry out a “fresh determination” – and Worboys will remain in prison pending the outcome.

Sir Brian Leveson, Mr Justice Jay and Mr Justice Garnham said on Wednesday, when ruling in favour of two women who brought the challenge, that the Parole Board should have undertaken “further inquiry into the circumstances of his offending”.

Nick Hardwick, the chair of the Parole Board, has been forced to resign after David Gauke, the justice secretary, told him his position was untenable.

Leveson said that the Parole Board should have “undertaken further inquiry into the circumstances of [Worboys’s] offending and in particular the extent to which the limited way in which he has described his offending may undermine his overall credibility”.

The judge quashed the board’s decision to release Worboys and ordered it to hold a fresh hearing before “a differently constituted panel”.

Leveson said that Worboys’ “apparent deftness in impression management” should have raised doubts about how genuine was his belated admission of guilt.

The Parole Board, he said, should have been aware that that it did not have material from the police or Crown Prosecutions Service to challenge his version of events. A key issue in assessing the risk posed by releasing Worboys, Leveson pointed out, was “whether he was being open and honest”.

The judgment also supported a challenge against rule 25 of Parole Board proceedings, which prevents any reasons being given for decisions made by the board.

“There are no obvious reasons why the open justice principle should not apply to the Parole Board in the context of providing information on matters of public concern,” Leveson added.

Lawyers for two unnamed victims had argued that the full extent of Worboys’ offending should have been taken into account and that the decision to free him on licence, even on the evidence considered, was “irrational”.

Worboys, 60, now goes by the name John Radford. He was jailed indefinitely in 2009 with a minimum term of eight years after being found guilty of 19 offences, including rape, sexual assault and drugging late-night passengers, committed against 12 victims.

Q&A

What is the Parole Board?

The Parole Board is an independent body that carries out risk assessments on prisoners to determine whether they can be safely released into the community.

It manages the early release of prisoners serving fixed-length sentences of four years or more; the release of prisoners who are serving life sentences or indeterminate sentences for public protection; and the re-release of prisoners who have been given life or indeterminate sentences and were then re-imprisoned.

Some prisoners seeking release may have to attend a hearing before Parole Board members.

Up to three members of a panel will decide whether to release the prisoner based on a file of documents including information on the inmate’s behaviour in prison, their plans once released and risk of committing further crimes. Medical, psychiatric and psychological evidence can also be heard.

As well as the prisoner, a solicitor, psychologist and witnesses could attend. The victim of the prisoner’s offences may also be present.

The Parole Board has 234 members who make the assessments and decisions and employs 120 members of staff to support them.

However, police believe he committed crimes against 105 women between 2002 and 2008, when he was caught. Worboys has served 10 years in jail.

Harriet Wistrich, the solicitor who represented the two unnamed victims, said afterwards: “It was immediately clear that all those who had encountered [Worboys] previously were convinced he was a danger to women and would offend again.”

One of the two victims, known only as NBV, said: “Since 4 January [when the decision to free Worboys was revealed] I have felt frozen in shock, disgusted and traumatised by the thought that Worboys could be on the streets so soon … News that we have won this case finally brought huge relief.”

Gauke said he welcomed the judgment and congratulated the victims who brought the unprecedented legal action.

“I want to take this opportunity to reiterate my heartfelt sympathy for all they, and the other victims, have suffered as a result of Worboys’ hideous crimes,” he said.

“I took expert legal advice from leading counsel on whether I should bring a challenge. The bar for judicial review is set high. I considered whether the decision was legally rational – in other words, a decision which no reasonable Parole Board could have made.

“The advice I received was that such an argument was highly unlikely to succeed. And, indeed, this argument did not succeed. However, the victims succeeded in a different argument.”

Gauke announced his intention to “conduct further work to examine the Parole Board rules in their entirety”.

He added: “As a result of the work that has been completed to date, I have already decided to abolish rule 25 and will do so as soon as possible after the Easter recess.

“This will enable us to provide for the Parole Board to make available summaries of the decisions they make to victims. In addition, I will bring forward proposals for Parole Board decisions to be challenged.

“I intend to consult on the detail of these proposals by the end of April alongside other proposals to improve the way that victims are kept informed about the parole process. I will make a statement to parliament this afternoon and set out our response to the judgment – and our next steps – in more detail.”

After the hearing, Phillippa Kaufmann QC, who represented the victims, said removing Hardwick was the wrong response. “It looks as though he has been scapegoated for something that is not his responsibility.”

Topics