An immediate review into how the parole board makes its decisions was announced by the government on Saturday after more victims of the serial sex attacker John Worboys came forward to describe their “shock and panic” over his imminent release.
Accepting that the decision had exposed failings in the criminal justice system, the justice secretary, David Lidington, said that he would attempt to restore confidence by examining ways to increase transparency in the board’s risk assessments on prisoners.
Worboys, the rapist who police fear may have had more than 100 victims, served less than nine years of what could have been an indefinite sentence.
As anger over the board’s decision to release the former black-cab driver showed little sign of abating, women who were sexually assaulted by Worboys expressed their disbelief at both the jail term served by the 60-year-old and also the failure to inform them of his release.
One woman, known as DSD, rejected assurances from the parole board that Worboys would not re-offend, saying she was “convinced” he would attack again. She added: “I am extremely angry but not at all surprised that the authorities have again let me down and failed to warn me so I could prepare myself for such devastating news. Since hearing the news I have been in a state of complete shock and panic.”
DSD, who launched legal action against the Metropolitan police over the force’s failures to investigate the original multiple allegations against Worboys, said that the board’s assurances typified the attitude of the authorities throughout the case.
She said: “It reminds me of the comments the police made in 2003 when I reported to them I had been raped – ‘… a black-cab driver just wouldn’t do it.’ I said at the time if they didn’t find him he would do it again.”
Another rape survivor, known as NBV, also came forward to describe how she was “appalled and haunted” by the failure to inform her that Worboys was to be released. “I can’t watch the news or read the papers. My heart freezes when I hear his name. Seeing his face makes me feel unwell. He’s ruining my life all over again.”
As the fallout continued, the government unveiled details of how it would try to reassure victims. It issued a statement from Lidington saying that, while the parole board should remain independent, “there is a strong case to review how to allow greater openness about the decision-making process”.
However, Labour said that the move did not go far enough and that only an exhaustive “end-to-end” inquiry into the handling of the entire Worboys case would restore public trust.
The shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, said: “The case raises so many serious questions that anything less than an independent end-to-end review – examining the handling of the case right from the first reporting of an attack to the police by a victim, through to the parole board hearing – will be letting down both victims and the wider public.”
On Monday MPs are expected to demand that Lidington is summoned to answer questions concerning the release of Worboys. Senior Labour sources have indicated they will table an urgent question on the issue that could compel Lidington to explain the parole board’s decision-making process to MPs. Many also want more clarity on the process by which victims are notified that their attacker is to be released, with particular scrutiny on the victim-contact scheme that is run by the National Probation Service.
Elsewhere, the solicitor Harriet Wistrich, who represented some of the former taxi driver’s victims, announced that she will be examining potential avenues to ensure that the decision to release Worboys is reviewed. Wistrich confirmed that she is also preparing to lodge a complaint about the failure to inform women about the parole process.
Wistrich added: “In a statement by the Ministry of Justice, it was said that: ‘Some victims chose not to be updated.’ However, neither of my clients were given any choice at all on this.”
Worboys, who was imprisoned in 2009, was given an indefinite jail term and told that he must serve a minimum of eight years after he was found guilty on 19 charges of drugging and sexually assaulting 12 women, in one case raping his victim.
After his conviction, police received further complaints from dozens of women and said that, over his 13-year career as a London taxi driver, he could have drugged and attacked more than 100 female passengers.
Among women targeted by him was Carrie Symonds, who was 19 in 2007 when Worboys offered to drive her home after he spotted her waiting for a night bus in west London.
During the journey Worboys bragged about winning a significant amount of money from gambling, before stopping the cab and asking if he could join her in the back to celebrate his win. He then bet Symonds £50 that she could not drink a shot of vodka, and if she downed the drink offered to take her home for free.
“I can’t remember anything from that point onwards and that’s what is so worrying. I believe he got into the front of the cab and did drive me back then straight away. I feel that if I was assaulted I would instinctively know,” said Symonds, who is now director of communications for the Conservative party.
As carried in TG