Victims of the black cab rapist John Worboys had their names misspelt in official correspondence while others learned of his release in the media, an official review has revealed.
Women who found out through press reports included those who were signed up to a scheme designed to keep them up to date on the case, a review by chief inspector of probation Dame Glenys Stacey revealed.
Women targeted by the 60-year-old said they had not felt prepared for his release, after “poor” quality letters sent to them by the National Probation Service (NPS) were incorrectly addressed and failed to clearly convey details of the case and processes.
One woman found out about the news in the media after an email was automatically forwarded to her “junk” folder.
Dame Glenys was asked by the government to carry out an urgent review of contact with Worboys’ victims after authorities came under fierce criticism over their handling of the case.
Wednesday’s publication of the review comes as two of Worboys’ victims won the right to challenge in prison release in the High Court.
At the same hearing, London mayor Sadiq Khan urged Sir Brian Leveson and Mr Justice Garnham to allow him to bring judicial review action against the Parole Board.
The quality of correspondence was poor. Some letters contained errors in victims’ names and addresses, and the messages were not conveyed clearly Dame Glenys Stacey, Chief Inspector of Probation
Dame Glenys’s paper stated: “The quality of correspondence was poor. Some letters contained errors in victims’ names and addresses, and the messages were not conveyed clearly.
“This was particularly significant at the time when the women had the opportunity to contribute their views to the parole hearing.”
The report on the operation of the victim contact scheme found that the NPS “generally complied with the scheme provisions” but that such errors conveyed “a lack of care or concern”.
Technical terms, such as licence and supervision, were not sufficiently explained to victims, the report found.
Examples of failings:
• In one case a victim’s name had repeatedly been spelt incorrectly throughout the process
• How John Worboys was referred to throughout the correspondence was erratic, despite reassurances in some letters saying that he would always be referred to as JW.
• One woman said that she had asked several times for an error in her address to be corrected.
• One woman said that the letter informing her of the parole board’s decision was delayed because it was incorrectly addressed.
After Worboys was sentenced in 2009, 12 victims who fell under the statutory Victim Contact Scheme (VSC) were contacted and given the opportunity to opt in. Four chose to do so, and over time contact was lost with one.
Prior to Worboys’ parole hearing in November, the NPS attempted to contact women who were not signed up to the scheme which was a “well-intentioned action”.
But there was not enough time before the hearing for women to receive and absorb the information, while the letters “lacked clarity and urgency”.
By the time of the parole hearing, five women were in contact with the VCS and the probation service took prompt action to notify each of the decision to release Worboys.
Notifications were given by letter, email or phone call, depending on choices made by women previously.
The review said: “Inevitably, they each received the news at different times, and regrettably the news broke in the press before some had received and read the notification.
“Those women not in contact with the scheme – the majority – learnt of the decision through the media. All who spoke to us described their shock and distress. They had not felt prepared for this outcome.”
Most of the women spoken to by the review found out Worboys was set to be freed in the media on or around January 4.
“Their distress, anxiety and disbelief at finding out that John Worboys was to be released from custody was palpable. This was further compounded by the method by which they received the news.
“Several noted their urgent need for information at that point, and their frustration about their search for the right agency to provide this,” the report said.
Correspondence about Worboys’s release used a templated format and the style and language was “not wholly appropriate”.
“For example, the term ‘disappointing’ – as applied to the reaction the women may have to the news of John Worboys’ release – did not, in our view, demonstrate sufficient gravitas or empathy,” the report said.
Justice Secretary David Gauke said: “It is reassuring that the correct procedures were followed and that in some respects victim liaison officers have gone above and beyond the victim contact requirements.
“However, I fully accept that there are things we can do much better.
“That’s why we have already changed the letters we send to victims to make them more compassionate, clearer and more informative, but there is more to do. We will take these findings and improve the system.”
Last month, campaigners slammed the parole board’s decision to release Worboys following his conviction in 2009 of 19 offences of drugging and sexually assaulting women.
Worboys used alcohol and drugs to incapacitate his victims between 2002 and 2008. The licensed London black cab driver told some women he had won money at a casino or lottery and offered them spiked champagne in an invitation to celebrate with him.
Despite being convicted of 19 offences against 12 women, it is feared Worboys may have more than 100 victims.