Theresa May has called for greater transparency in Parole Board decisions on releasing prisoners such as the serial sex offender John Worboys.
In a television interview on Sunday morning, the prime minister supported demands for victims to be given more information about when and why their attackers are to be let out of jail.
The justice secretary, David Lidington, is to conduct a review of Parole Board procedures following the furore over the freeing of the former black-cab driver who is believed to have drugged and assaulted more than 100 women.
Appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, May declined to comment on her role when home secretary in intervening in a supreme court case on the side of the police against two of Worboys’ victims who are seeking compensation.
“My instinct is that people do want to know more about why decisions are taken in the way that they’re taken … Let’s look at this properly … but I fully recognise why people are concerned about this.”
May revealed that she personally knew “somebody who was one of [Worboys’] victims and who was not contacted and first heard of what was happening through the media.”
May was asked why, as home secretary, she backed the Metropolitan police through a succession of court challenges against two women whose complaints were not taken seriously by officers.
She said she would not comment on individual cases and it was “for the courts to determine what is right”. The supreme court is due to rule on the women’s compensation claim in the coming weeks.
May said her main concern was to “ensure that we give people the confidence to be able to report these crimes, make these allegations for them to be properly investigated and then the right and proper action to be taken.”
Legislative changes could be needed in order to make Parole Board decisions more transparent, she conceded.
In a separate statement, Lidington said it was vital that victims of rape and sexual assault have full confidence in the criminal justice system.
“While sentence lengths for these horrific crimes have increased by over 30% since 2010 and more victims are coming forward, there is still more to do,” he said. “While it is right that the Parole Board should remain an independent body, I believe that there is a strong case to review how to allow greater openness about the decision-making process.
“We also need to make sure arrangements across the criminal justice system ensure victims are both heard and, if they wish, kept informed about their case.”
Lidington said he had talked to the victims commissioner, Helen Newlove, and the chair of the Parole Board, Nick Hardwick, about what changes could be made to help victims of crime and provide greater transparency about the board’s work.
“I want to make sure we consult victims’ groups and others, and to start this work now so that decisions can be taken before Easter,” he said.
Worboys, 60, has spent nine years and nine months in prison, including time on remand. He was given an indeterminate sentence, which had a minimum term of eight years, for drugging and sexually assaulting at least 12 women, including raping one of them. He is likely to be freed within weeks.
A total of 105 complaints against Worboys reached the Crown Prosecution Service, but the Guardian understands the former taxi driver was formally protesting his innocence as recently as two years ago.
After he was jailed in 2009, the CPS advised police that it would be in the public interest only to prosecute fresh allegations of rape.
The human rights organisation Liberty said that May “has serious questions to answer” about her intervention on behalf of the police in the supreme court case.
Hardwick has apologised unreservedly because two victims had not been informed of the Parole Board’s decision, but has pointed out that it was the role of the probation service’s victim contact team to pass on the information.
Hardwick said that the law prevents publication of the three-person panel’s decision-making process in any individual case. However, he has acknowledged that the case highlights the need for greater transparency and said that he has “radical plans” to change the rules.
Worboys, who also worked as a male stripper, was reported to have “found God” and regularly attended Church of England services during his time at Wakefield high-security prison.
Richard Scorer, a specialist abuse lawyer from Slater and Gordon, which represents 11 of Worboys’ victims, said: “Are his many victims seriously expected to believe that he has become a changed character? It is crucial that we are told the reasons why he has been allowed out.”