Certainly, things have gone shockingly wrong with the John Worboys case. From the very first, the police, quite plainly, brought their preconceptions to the task of dealing with the complainants. Equally, they appear to have been far too credulous when first interviewing Mr Worboys and then letting him go.
As most creditably acknowledged by the Parole Board’s chair Nick Hardwick back in November, the board’s procedures and hearings need to be far more transparent and therefore accountable. Equally, Mr Hardwick apologised unreservedly for the baffling failure to notify the victims of the decision to release. That said, and as he has added, that failure must be down to either the Probation Service or the police, and in that regard further hard questions need to be asked.
For reasons which are less than clear, the police appear to have failed in their duty to investigate at least two of the complaints brought to them, as both the High Court and the Court of Appeal have already ruled. The definitive ruling of the Supreme Court is awaited imminently.
Equally, the Crown Prosecution Service’s decision to pursue just the 21 counts requires further detailed explanation. Mr Justice Penry-Davey, when sentencing this disturbing offender, could do so only on the basis of the 19 offences of which he had been convicted, rather than other allegations that might have been waiting in the wings.
The judge did impose a life sentence. He recommended an eight-year moratorium before this man might be considered for parole and by the time of the board’s decision Worboys had served almost 10 years. He banned him from plying his trade as a cab driver. Importantly, he also imposed a sentence of Imprisonment for Public Protection, so imposing on the Parole Board a duty to satisfy itself to a very high standard that Worboys had become safe for release.
As far as we know, a full oral hearing did take place prior to the decision to release, with – apart from the obvious participants – the safeguards of evidence from the Probation Service and Prison Service representatives steeped in knowledge of the Worboys case, and a public protection advocate to represent the secretary of state and the victims. Rightly in my view, Mr Hardwick last year called for victims to be allowed to attend throughout such hearings; for the identities of the panel members to be made known; and for the hearings to be made public.
Quite apart from the concerns identified above, at least as serious an anxiety is that the Parole Board may have its vital independence of decision-making diluted. That would be exceedingly bad for our nation’s handling of offender rehabilitation, where the board’s track record over 50 years has been a singular success story, with less than 1% of those sanctioned for release going on to commit a further serious offence. Let us compare that with our shocking recidivism rate and think on before dismissing a decided force for good. We must not rush to judgement.
Solicitor and higher-court advocate; former Chair of the Law Society’s Criminal Law Committee; Kings Heath, Birmingham