Daily Telegraph, Friday 19 January 2018
For many women, the UK’s criminal justice system is now on trial. The government’s decision not to challenge the release of one of the country’s most prolific sex attackers, the black-cab rapist John Worboys, has added insult to an already simmering sense of injury.
Today’s announcement by the Justice Secretary, David Gauke, means it has been left to two of Worboys’ victims to make a last-ditch effort to prevent his release from Wakefield high security prison in a matter of weeks.
Gauke said he owed it to the victims to pursue all the options available to him – but told the House of Commons he could not reveal the detailed reasons behind his decision not to seek a judicial review.
The Worboys case is unusual in many respects, not least because the number of his victims is so high. He is believed to have assaulted more than a hundred women, picking them up in his black cab and drugging them in a series of pre-meditated attacks.
But Worboys isn’t just a predator who has repeatedly shown himself to be dangerous to women. Among many special features of this awful case, he is a former taxi driver who knows where some of his victims live. That alone is reason to ask whether it can ever be safe to release him – or is every single one of his victims expected to move?
Two of his victims, identified only by initials to protect their identity, are hoping to crowd-fund a judicial review of the parole board’s decision. Judicial reviews are expensive, which is why many people hoped and expected that ministers would challenge the parole board’s decision.
The sense of outrage from victims, their lawyers and the general public, is palpable. ‘It is crucial that the decision to release this manipulative, calculating and dangerous man can be considered by the courts as soon as possible,’ said Richard Scorer, a lawyer at the firm which represented 11 of Worboys’ victims.
He is absolutely right, but why should it be left to individual women, who have already been let down by blunders going back years, to protect themselves and other women?
The mistakes started a long time ago, when police officers in London didn’t believe women who said they’d been drugged and attacked by the driver of a black cab. When Worboys was finally caught, many more women came forward with similar stories – but the crown prosecution service decided to proceed with only a dozen cases.
That decision seems to have been based on the fact that Worboys drugged his victims, making their cases more difficult to prosecute, but it has had unforeseen – and disastrous – consequences. Victims who wanted to give evidence were told there was no need because Worboys was going to prison for a very long time – an assurance that now turns out to have been misguided.
Worboys was convicted of 19 offences against 12 victims and jailed indefinitely in 2009, with a minimum sentence of eight years. Earlier this month the parole board, basing its decision on Worboys’s relatively small number of convictions, decided it was safe to recommend his release. He has served less than ten years, which amounts to only a month for each of his alleged victims.
Scorer says it is ‘imperative’ that the failure to prosecute more cases against Worboys is re-examined. Some of his victims, whose lives were shattered by his violence and who remain in fear of him to this day, learned about his impending release from the news headlines.
This catalogue of errors would be bad enough in almost any area of the criminal law. In the case of an offender as persistent and devious as Worboys, it almost beggars belief. The decision to release him became public just days after it emerged that a man who pleaded guilty to the murder of his former partner had previously killed two other women. No one should be surprised if public confidence in the ability of the law to protect women from manifestly dangerous men is at an all-time low.
It is now clear that something has gone badly wrong at every stage of the Worboys case, from the botched initial investigation to the behind-closed-doors deliberations of the parole board. We are not allowed to know why the board thinks Worboys no longer poses a threat to women – and his victims will have to rely on assurances about his licence conditions. In the case of such a persistent, systematic predator, it is hard to see how they can ever feel safe.
After initially appearing sympathetic to public outrage, the government has held up its hands and left victims on their own to fight against Worboys’ release. They have raised more than £17,000 so far, with more cash likely to be promised now that ministers have walked away from the case. We should be grateful to these brave women for taking action, since the government won’t.
But the prime minister, Theresa May, has repeatedly spoken about her commitment to reducing violence against women. If she means what she says, she should immediately order a public inquiry into every aspect of this truly appalling case.