The Chairman of the Parole Board has “apologised unreservedly” for not informing victims of ‘black cab rapist’ John Worboys’ release, but has said it was the responsibility of another organisation to tell them.
Nick Hardwick said on Friday that he was “very surprised and shocked” to hear that victims had learnt about the 60-year-old’s release through media reports the previous day, and acknowledged it “would have been absolutely horrible for them”.
Hardwick told the Today programme it was the job of the Victim Contact Service to liaise with victims and the Parole Board believed they had done so in this case.
“I’m still trying to establish precisely what happened, so I don’t want to blame anybody yet, but we certainly believed the victims had been informed before we issued the decision,” Hardwick said, vowing to “check the situation more closely” to ascertain what had happened.
He added: “Whoever’s fault it was I fully accept it was a problem with the parole system. I’m chair of the Parole Board... this would have been absolutely horrible for the two women concerned and I apologise for it unreservedly.”
The Ministry of Justice has since said that not all of Warboys victims chose to be updated about decisions relating to his imprisonment.
Worboys was jailed in April 2009 on 19 charges of drugging and sexually assaulting at least 12 women, including raping one of them, but following his conviction dozens of other women came forward and the Met suggested he may have attacked more than 100 female passengers.
Worboys has spent around 10 years in custody, including a period on remand. His release will be managed by the Ministry of Justice, which has so far refused to comment.
Hardwick’s comments came after Sarah Green, the co-director of End Violence Against Women, spoke about how “shocked” two of his victims were having only learnt of his release in the media, “because the Parole Board didn’t inform them of their decision which is extremely poor practice”.
Green told the Today programme that it was “imperative that we hear” from the Parole Board today about “the nature of this decision... even if lots of individual details” aren’t released.
Justice Committee Chair Bob Neill said Worboys release was “very disturbing” and would recommend that Hardwick give evidence to the Justice Committee “about what has happened, in particular the failure to inform victims of Worboys release, for which he has rightly apologised”.
“We must be reassured that victims are fully involved in the whole of the process,” he added.
That call was echoed by Chairwoman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Yvette Cooper, who said the Parole Board’s decision should be scrutinised before Worboys is released.
Cooper said Worboys’ crimes were “the most appalling and vile” and there were “serious questions” over the decision to free him.
“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,” she said.
“We also need to know what information and support was given to all the victims before this decision was taken.”
Cooper’s concerns were echoed by Conservative MP Anna Soubry. Legal commentator and blogger, the Secret Barrister, added that it was “appalling” if Worboys’ victims had not been informed.
Responding to calls for more transparency around the Parole Board’s decision making, Hardwick said statutory rules prevent it from releasing details and used it to reiterate his desire for MPs to change the law to allow them to do so.
He has pushed for a the rules to be reviewed since the Autumn and suggested a change could be “the one good thing” to come out of the Worboys release controversy.
In a later statement, Hardwick said the Parole Board was going to launch a public consultation about its decision making.
“I recognise there is a lack transparency of Parole Board processes and I have recently set out options for change. We currently have a statutory duty under the Parole Board Rules that prevents disclosure of proceedings. We will shortly be launching a public consultation about how we share our decision making with the public.
“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.”
Justice Committee Chair Bob Neill said he would also be asking how the Parole Board system “can be made much more transparent”.
“In my view it is ridiculous that the current rules prevent the Board making public the reasons for their decisions. Professor Hardwick has called for MPs to back ‘opening the process up’ and we will give him the opportunity to make precisely that case”
Rape Crisis England & Wales said it was “shocking” that some of Worboys’ victims had not been informed of his release.
“This is completely unacceptable and Rape Crisis calls on the Parole Board to urgently explain why the statutory rules and procedures around informing victims weren’t followed.”
The Secretary of State, David Lidington, has separately been asked by 58 MPs to “investigate if the voices of the victims of John Worboys” were heard during the Parole Board’s decision.
Labour MP Stella Creasy shared a copy of a letter sent to Lidington on Instagram which said that while those backing the probe “respect the independence of the Judiciary.... we are concerned at the management of his
application for release and the Ministry of Justice’s role in this regard, and the questions this may raise for victims and survivors of serious sexual assault”.
Of “particular” concern, the letter noted, was the ability for victims to make representations during the process.
The MPs made a number of requests for information, including what current investigations were underway into Worboys, given the number of potential victims he had.
It is vital that victims of such serious sexual assault have confidence not only in the prosecution of such crimes but also the subsequent management of those who are convicted of them too,” the letter reads.
Green also suggested today that the Metropolitan Police should also comment on why they “failed horribly” in investigating Worboys, having acknowledged he may have had over 100 victims.
The Ministry of Justice called Worboys crimes, “truly horrendous” and in a statement detailed how not all of his victims chose to be updated on decisions relating to his release.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “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. Ministry of Justice
“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.”
The Women’s Equality Party said that Worboys’ release shows that the criminal justice system had failed his victims.
Sophie Walker, leader of the party, said: “The story of John Worboys is a case study in the failure of the criminal justice system to protect and deliver justice for the victims of sexual violence.
“Police initially believed this prolific predator rather than his victims and, when he was finally put behind bars after five years of attacks, he was convicted of only a small proportion of the crimes police now believe he committed.
“It is right that sentencing guidelines for rape and sexual assault have been toughened since Worboys was convicted but he has served less than a decade for crimes that leave a permanent impact on the victims.
“The parole board may have satisfied itself that he can be prevented from ruining even more lives, but that will come as little comfort to the more than 100 women who he is thought to have attacked.”
The BBC reported one woman contacted by the broadcaster was unaware his parole hearing had been successful and that he was due to be released.
Meanwhile, Worboys’ ex-wife, Jean Clayton, told The Sun he should “never be let out”.
Speaking on Channel 4 last night, solicitor Harriet Wistrich, who has previously represented two of Worboys’ victims, made the point that the minimum 8-year term attached to the rapist’s sentence represents less than a month in prison for each of the 105 women who came forward to report him to the police and that there may be many more victims who have not yet reported.
Rape Crisis added on Friday that Worboys case reflects “more broadly the very serious failures in the criminal justice system when it comes to sexual offences”.
“Unprecedented numbers of sexual violence victims and survivors have come forward both to report to the police and to seek specialist Rape Crisis services in recent years, and this increase shows no signs of slowing.
“Despite this, nowhere near the necessary resources have been put in to making sure these victims and survivors receive both the criminal justice and the specialist support and advocacy they need and deserve.
“Public institutions and society consistently encourage sexual violence victims and survivors to report to the police, often implying it is their moral and public duty to do so. Yet too often when they do, the appropriate and immediate support and advocacy services are not in place. The criminal justice process takes too long, can be re-traumatising, and sometimes, as this case highlights, even when a dangerous, serial offender is convicted, measures taken to minimise the potential harm they can cause seem severely inadequate.”