Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 28 March 2018
One of the UK’s worst sex offenders, the black cab rapist John Worboys, is to stay behind bars for the foreseeable future – but only because two of his victims had the courage to challenge his release at the High Court. They have won a ruling that overturns the Parole Board’s decision to release Worboys, who will now remain in prison while the board looks at the case again. This is a huge victory for the victims, who pointed out that Worboys had made notes of their addresses and knew where they lived, and women more widely.
This is a huge victory for the victims, who pointed out that Worboys had made notes of their addresses and knew where they lived, and women more widely. The fact that the Parole Board had agreed to release the multiple rapist, who preyed on women as he drove round London in his black cab, caused shock and outrage when it became public in January.
Now three High Court judges have ruled in favour of the two women who brought the case (along with the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan), after listening to their lawyers’ argument that the Parole Board’s decision was ‘irrational’. That is the good news from this sorry episode, and it may affect the way the Parole Board makes decisions in other controversial cases involving defendants convicted in cases of serial rape or child abuse.
Offenders who may become eligible for release over the next two years include Vanessa George, who was convicted of abusing children in her care at a nursery in Plymouth, and Mohammed Liaqat, leader of a child-grooming ring in Derby. Like Worboys, they are both serving indeterminate sentences for public protection, a type of prison sentence (now abolished) that set a minimum tariff and left decisions about release up to the Parole Board. Vanessa George was refused parole last year after serving seven years, but it is believed that she will soon be eligible to apply again.
Today’s decision, however, raises huge questions about the capacity of the Parole Board to balance the competing rights of prisoners serving an IPP sentence, thejr victims and the wider public. Lawyers for Worboys’s victims pointed out that he had continued to deny his guilt as recently as 2015, eventually making only a limited admission of the offences for which he was convicted.
Worboys was found guilty of 19 charges involving 12 victims in 2009, but many more women told the police he had attacked them. He is believed to have assaulted more than a hundred women, many of whom are angry because their cases were never prosecuted in court.
The victims’ lawyers said that the full extent of his offending should have been taken into account when assessing the risk Worboys poses to the public. One of the judges, Sir Brian Leveson, agreed, saying that the Parole Board should have looked further into ‘the circumstances of [Worboys's] offending’ and considered whether his limited admission of guilt might ‘undermine his overall credibility’.
Today’s decision does not mean that Worboys will remain in prison indefinitely, but the judges ordered the Parole Board to hold a fresh hearing before a different panel. They could come to a different decision, but in the meantime no one should be in any doubt that this case has been a catastrophe for the Parole Board.
As well as ordering a new hearing, the judges upheld a challenge to the secrecy surroundings the Parole Board’s decisions, ruling in favour of open justice. Its chair, Nick Hardwick, was forced to resign earlier today, shortly before the High Court ruling, after the Justice Secretary, David Gauke, told him his position was untenable.
That isn’t to say that government ministers should emerge unscathed from this appalling sequence of events. May often speaks about her personal commitment to ending violence against women – but she did nothing when Gauke announced that he wouldn’t seek a judicial review of the decision to release a man who had used his job to sexually assault hundreds of unsuspecting women.
It was left to two of his victims and the Mayor, who joined the action on behalf of Londoners, to go to the High Court and get that decision reviewed. We owe them huge thanks but this is an extraordinary case in which victims – and the public, who have the right to expect protection from a calculating serial rapist – have been let down from first to last.