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The decision to release John Worboys raises more questions than answers

In April 2009, taxi driver John Worboys was sentenced for 19 offences committed against 12 victims, all of whom were female customers in his black cab between 2003 and 2007. His victims were typically given laced drinks whilst in the back of his taxi in order to incapacitate them. The offences comprised one rape, five sexual assaults, one attempted sexual assault, and twelve counts in relation to administering the drugs.

Mr Worboys denied all offences during his 2009 trial. During the trial, he admitted lying to the women and offering them drinks, but claimed he did so because he craved female attention in the wake of a series of failed relationships. However, he was duly convicted, and a psychiatric report concluded he was a “repetitive predatory sexual offender” who showed a “significant degree of deviance”. Mr Worboys was 51 at the time and all offences were committed whilst in his 40s.

Mr Worboys was given a number of concurrent sentences, with the ultimate result of an indefinite sentence for public protection (IPP), but with a minimum term of eight years. Mr Worboys unsuccessfully attempted to appeal against his convictions in 2010. A serving prisoner since 2008, his minimum term expired in 2016. Indeed, to reflect the imposition of an IPP, that minimum eight year term corresponded to a determinate sentence of sixteen years, allowing for half time release.

It has been reported that the Parole Board approved Mr Worboys’ release in late 2017. He is now 60 years old. His state of health is not known. Nor is it known if Mr Worboys has now admitted his guilt to the Board, shown any contrition or remorse, or indeed why it was felt he is no longer poses ‘a significant risk of serious harm’ to the public. Mr Worboys should, as a matter of course, be closely monitored upon release and will remain a registered sex offender for life. But the full reasoning of the Parole Board is not normally made public.

Understandably, there has been an outcry about Mr Worboys’ impending release from victims, support groups, commentators and politicians. Almost all are calling for transparency as to the Board’s reasoning, an urgent review by the Home Secretary, and possibly even a legal challenge. However, there are two concerning aspects as to what happened following the sentencing in 2009, both of which might be relevant to any legal challenge.

Firstly, the Prosecution did not appeal against Mr Worboys’ sentence as being unduly lenient - as it could have done via the Attorney General at the time, Baroness Scotland. The right of appeal, for both the defendant and the Prosecution, is time-limited. Were the shoe on the other foot, it is highly unlikely the Court of Appeal would entertain an appeal from Mr Worboys lodged eight years ‘out of time’.

Secondly, despite reports of scores of further allegations being made against Mr Worboys, no further charges have ever been brought. It is not currently clear why further charges have not been brought, or whether further allegations were fully investigated, or indeed whether they might still be investigated. It is a fact, however, that two complainants, known as DSD and NBV have successfully sued the Metropolitan police for breaching their human rights on the grounds police did not believe their original allegations concerning Worboys - allegations made prior to his arrest in 2008. NBV’s allegation eventually ended in Worboys’ conviction for sexual assault against her in the 2009 trial, but she argued that by initially dismissing her claim, this amounted to inhuman or degrading treatment by the Metropolitan police.  The current Home Secretary has in fact appealed against this judgment in favour of NBV and DSD, and so that particular case is not concluded.

Overall, this is a sentencing controversy that will run and run, with various strands and unknown factors. Readers and commentators alike will naturally abhor the idea of Mr Worboys being released. But it is also ironic that many who decry the lack of published information at this point also seem happy to both draw firm conclusions, and then to apportion blame. That is quite a feat of intuition.


Legal Disclaimer

Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.