In November 2017, the UK Parole Board sparked a national outcry when it revealed that serial sex attacker John Worboy would be released from prison, having served just 8 years behind bars. While the decision was not out of the ordinary, the backlash was severe and resulted in two of Worboys’ victims launching legal action against the parole board, in what would become one of the UK’s highest-profile investigations into the criminal justice system.

The Black Cab Rapist

Dubbed the Black Cab Rapist by British tabloids, the crimes committed by John Worboys shocked the country for their brutal and predatory nature. The taxi driver lived and worked in the Greater London area, and picked up the majority of his fares in the city centre.

The first reports of suspicious activity by Worboys were made to police in 2002. Over the next six years, 14 separate women would recount disturbing experiences at the hands of the driver to officers, ranging from soliciting, to drugging, to rape. The women described how Worboys’ had told them he was celebrating a big win at the casino and showed them a large carrier bag of banknotes. He then asked them to share a glass of champagne with him, which he had drugged with sedatives. After the drugs kicked in he would rape or sexually assault them. Many women had very little memory of what had happened to them.

However, despite the similarity of the reports, Police did not link the incidents. It was not until July 2007 that Worboys was arrested. A 19-year-old student alleged that the driver had drugged and raped her, but police believed the driver’s rebuttal that the woman had made a drunken pass at him. He was released without charge.

Later that year, a 26-year-old woman reported she was drugged and raped by a cab driver,  but the DNA sample was not a match to Worboys. A month later a second report was filed by a different woman, shortly followed by a third. Finally, police were convinced that they were dealing with a serial rapist, and following information from staff at a sexual assault referral unit, they arrested Worboys at his home in Rotherhithe.

Following a search police discovered a “rape kit” in the boot of Worboys’ taxi, containing champagne miniatures, sleeping tablets, plastic gloves, and items used to assault his victims. They also found handwritten notes in his garage outlining what he would say to the police if he was arrested.

Worboys pleaded not guilty to all 23 counts brought against him. A total of 12 women, aged 19 – 33, testified against the cab driver, describing how he had manipulated and attacked them when they were at their most vulnerable. He was given an indeterminate sentence for public protection, which included a minimum of 8 years in prison. After that, the parole board would judge whether he still posed a threat to public safety.

Following his sentencing, two victims, referred to as DSD and NBV, launched a claim against the Metropolitan Police for failing to properly investigate their initial reports. Inquiries after his arrest revealed that Worboys probably assaulted more than 100 women. DSD and NBV argued that many of these attacks could have been prevented if investigated properly.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission agreed and ordered disciplinary action against five officers. The Metropolitan Police agreed that officers let down victims, and made a public apology for its response to victim reports.

Releasing Worboys

In January 2018, it was revealed that Worboys would be released from prison. The Parole Board had decided to approve the 60-year-old’s release, provided “stringent” licence conditions were put in place, which included reporting to a probation officer each week and cutting all contact with his victims.

Following widespread reports of the decision in the national media, two separate judicial review proceedings were launched. The first was by the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who argued that releasing Worboys was irrational on the grounds of public safety. He argued that the board had not taken into account all the evidence about Worboys’ risk of reoffending, including confessions he made to a physiatrist about raping more than 90 other women. Khan added that the board’s failure to give reasons for the decision to him and the victims was unlawful.

A similar argument was made by DSD and NBV. Both reviews looked at whether Parole Board decisions should be made public, or, as was the case at the time, dealt with in private. Before this case, a decision from the parole board had never been subject to judicial review because of stringent privacy rules.

An irrational decision

In March 2018, three high court judges overturned the Parole Board’s decision to release Worboys. They ordered the board to carry out a “fresh determination”, ruling that the board should have made “further inquiries into the circumstances of his offending”. Later that year it was announced that Worboys had been sentenced to two further life sentences.

The judges also ruled in favour of the challenge against privacy rules, and said that there was “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”.

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