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Friday, 05 January 2018

Parole boss sorry over failure to tell victims of cabbie rapist about release

Written by The Press Association

The chairman of the Parole Board has apologised "unreservedly" over the failure to inform the victims of serial rapist John Worboys of his imminent release.

Professor Nick Hardwick said he fully accepts there was a problem with the parole system, and that it was believed the victims had been informed before the decision was issued.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme he said he is still trying to establish precisely what happened and does not want to "blame anybody yet".

He said it was not the Parole Board's responsibility to inform victims, and added: "Whoever's fault it was, I fully accept this was a problem with (the) parole system.

"I'm chair of the Parole Board, this would have been absolutely horrible for those two women concerned, and I apologise for it unreservedly."

London cabbie Worboys, a former stripper and adult film star, was jailed indefinitely in 2009, with a minimum term of eight years, for drugging and sexually assaulting women passengers.

In a statement, Prof Hardwick (pictured) said he has "recently set out options for change" and that the Parole Board has a "statutory duty" under its rules which "prevents disclosure of proceedings".

"We will shortly be launching a public consultation about how we share our decision-making with the public," he added.

"I am very concerned some victims were not told about the decision; this must have been very distressing.

"There are robust arrangements in place for victims to be informed through the Victim Contact Scheme. We were told that had been done as usual in this case and released the decision on that basis."

Lawyer Harriet Wistrich said two victims had not been informed of Worboys' imminent release or of his Parole Board hearing.

She told the Press Association they are both "shocked and horrified by this news", and said on Channel 4 News that the first they learned of the planned release was while "listening on the radio, cooking tea for the kids".

It is understood that all those who were signed up to the Victim Contact Scheme were informed as soon as the Parole Board decision was made.

Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, has called for the Parole Board to immediately publish its reasons for allowing the release of Worboys.

She said was "really shocked" by the move and called for scrutiny of the Parole Board's reasoning before the prolific sex attacker is let out of jail.

Worboys, who became known as the "black cab rapist", was found guilty of 19 charges of drugging and sexually assaulting 12 women passengers, in one case raping a woman.

But police said in 2010 that his alleged victims numbered 102 after more people came forward following his trial and conviction.

The allegations were investigated but no further action was taken on the advice of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), police said.

The director of public prosecutions at the time of Worboys' conviction, Labour's Sir Keir Starmer, has since urged any alleged victims with concerns about how their case was handled to contact the police.

Speaking outside his home in north London, the shadow Brexit secretary said: "First and foremost, it's very important that if there are any allegations that anybody thinks have not been looked into, sufficiently or at all, they go to the police and make those allegations so they can be looked into.

"The second important thing is that it's really important that what's said is factually accurate. As you know, the Crown Prosecution Service holds the file on this case, they made the decisions in the case, and it is really important you go to them to get an accurate read-out of the decisions that have been made."

Asked whether he thought the right decision was made by prosecutors not to pursue further allegations against the serial sex attacker, Sir Keir said: "I think these decisions were nine years ago and it's very important you go to the Crown Prosecution Service and get an accurate read-out of the decisions that were made, particularly if further allegations have been made now."

He refused to answer further questions about why past cases were not brought to trial.

It is feared Worboys may have more than 100 victims and the Parole Board's decision sparked an outcry from charities and support groups when it was made public on Thursday.

Charity campaigners have called the time served by the 60-year-old "woefully short" and said his release "beggars belief".

Meanwhile, Worboys' ex-wife, Jean Clayton, told the Sun he should "never be let out".

Ms Cooper said Worboys' crimes were "the most appalling and vile" and there were "serious questions" over the Parole Board's decision.

"Given the seriousness of this case, the Parole Board should publish their reasons immediately so both the decision and the process can be scrutinised before this man is released.

"We also need to know what information and support was given to all the victims before this decision was taken."

Her intervention raises the prospect that senior members of the Parole Board could be hauled before MPs for a grilling over the decision.

Specialist abuse lawyer Richard Scorer from Slater Gordon said the firm represented 11 of Worboys' victims and claimed they were devastated.

"Our clients have been left devastated by the shocking news that a man who mercilessly raped scores of women, denied his heinous crimes and then forced them to endure the torment of a criminal trial is to be released," he said.

"For victims not be told that he is to be freed by the Parole Board adds insult to injury.

"When we visited Worboys in jail he was clearly a very manipulative and dangerous individual.

"We are concerned he may have fooled the board into believing he is no longer a threat.

"For many years after he was convicted he continued to deny even the offences for which he was found guilty.

"The Parole Board must now reveal publicly whether Worboys has finally admitted his crimes and shown any remorse whatsoever.

"If he still denies his crimes, then he clearly poses a continuing risk to women.

"If he now admits that he deliberately and systematically drugged and raped women, then the police need to look at whether there are any crimes that he was not convicted of and seek justice for those victims."

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "These were truly horrendous crimes and our thoughts are with the victims for the pain and suffering they have endured.

"In traumatic and distressing cases like this, it is right that victims decide whether and how they want to be kept updated.

"Some victims in this case chose not to be updated.

"Others chose to be informed by phone or email and were contacted immediately; others chose to be informed by letters which were sent straight away, but of course take longer.

"Our priority is to support victims and it is right that we respect their decisions about how they are contacted."

London mayor Sadiq Khan called on the Parole Board to reconsider its decision to free Worboys, which he said had further undermined victims' confidence in the justice system.

He said the "inconsiderate, unsympathetic and inhumane" failure to inform them of his impending release amounted to a "clear breach" of the victims' code.

"Public confidence in our criminal justice system is crucial, and victims and the public still need answers from the police and the CPS about the flawed investigation and prosecution," said Mr Khan.

"The Parole Board must reconsider their decision to release this man.

"They also need to be open and transparent about why they reached their decision and explain these further failings."

Women still waiting for court decision following damages fight

Two of John Worboys' victims left "shocked and horrified" by his imminent release are awaiting a Supreme Court ruling relating to police human rights breaches during the investigation, their lawyer said.

Scotland Yard launched an appeal against a High Court ruling which led to two women, who were seriously sexually assaulted by the London cabbie, winning compensation.

In 2013 the High Court found the Met were liable to the women for failures in its investigation, and in 2014 ruled that compensation totalling £41,250 should be awarded.

Bringing their claims under article three of the Human Rights Act, which relates to inhuman or degrading treatment, the court said the two women should receive £22,250 and £19,000 respectively.

The Met, with the Home Office intervening in support, went to the UK's highest court last year after the Court of Appeal backed the decision.

Scotland Yard's lawyers said the case is being pursued to establish legal principles for the future and the women who showed "considerable bravery", will keep their damages whatever happens.

Lawyer Harriet Wistrich, who acted for the two women, said a decision from the Supreme Court is currently awaited and should hopefully be published "very soon".

She told the Press Association that neither of the women were informed about Worboys' Parole Board hearing or the decision to release him, and that they are "shocked and horrified" by the news.

Ms Wistrich also said one of the women even gave evidence at Worboys' criminal trial.

Worboys, who became known as the "black cab rapist", was found guilty of 19 charges of drugging and sexually assaulting 12 women passengers, in one case raping a woman.

After he was jailed indefinitely in 2009, with a minimum term of eight years, Carrie Symonds, then aged 19, spoke of her ordeal at his hands.

One of 14 women who gave evidence against him at his Croydon Crown Court trial, she later said she will never really know what happened.

Describing what happened she said: "He approached me and said 'Do you want a taxi?' and I said 'I can't afford it'.

"I actually had £5 in my hand and I said 'This is all I've got'.

"He came into the back and he brought the champagne and he also brought this stack of cash that he claimed to have won," she told ITV News in 2009.

Ms Symonds said, after drinking one shot of vodka, she was "clinging" to the side of the taxi.

She said: "I remember feeling very tired and sort of clinging to the side of the cab.

"I remember thinking 'I don't want to talk, even'.

"The worst thing is not having peace of mind. I'm 99.9% sure that nothing happened to me but I will never know."

Another woman, Sarah Craigie, was picked up by the serial sex attacker on separate occasions and believed she was given a spiked drink.

Her case was not included in the charges brought against Worboys.

Ms Craigie, then 32, said she encountered Worboys as she was trying to travel home to Essex from Leicester Square in central London in May 2007.

She said she had been drinking brandy and cola and was upset after a row with her former boyfriend when Worboys offered her a lift.

Ms Craigie told the Daily Mail in 2009: "I told him that I needed to get back to Dagenham but only had £30 on me and that would not be enough.

"He said 'Don't worry darling ... I will get you home safe'."

Worboys had quizzed her on why she was crying and if she had a boyfriend and Ms Craigie told him about the row.

"It was then he said he had enjoyed a great day and had won thousands of pounds at the races.

"He asked me if I wanted to have a drink to celebrate.

"By that time I had really had enough alcohol but he offered me vodka, champagne, wine, he said he had anything I wanted to drink.

"I said I would have a soft drink and after a while he passed me a can of Coke. After that, the journey became a blur.

"Within about 20 minutes I was feeling really nauseous and drowsy. I was just dizzy and feeling so out of it."

Worboys stopped the cab to use a toilet and got into the back of the car next to her.

She said: "The next thing I remember was him being in the back of the taxi with me.

"He had a white plastic carrier bag full of cash, I have never seen so much money, and he was sipping champagne from a glass.

"He then came towards me, really close, and I felt very intimidated and vulnerable.

"Worboys just kept on invading my personal space and it was then I then got angry.

"I shouted at him 'This just isn't right, you should not be drinking. Just take me home'."

He drove her home and then left at speed.

Ms Craigie told the newspaper she believes the journey, which should have taken only 30 minutes, had lasted two hours.

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