Serial Rapist’s Release Is Blocked, for Now, by U.K. Court
LONDON — A British court ordered a parole board on Wednesday to reconsider its decision to release a notorious sex offender — a former London cabdriver implicated in attacks on more than 100 women — and told the government to lift the shroud of secrecy over parole decisions.
The decision to grant parole to the serial rapist, John Worboys, after a decade in prison prompted outrage when it was made public in January, and two of his victims sought to have the result overturned in court. Victims said they had been assured that Mr. Worboys stood little chance of ever being released, and some said that the authorities had failed to notify them that he was up for parole.
The women said they felt not only betrayed by the decision but also frightened, because Mr. Worboys, who drove them home after drugging and assaulting them, knew where they lived.
On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the High Court of Justice in London ruled that while it did not have the power to affirm or reverse a parole decision, it was sending the case back to the parole board for rehearing, temporarily blocking the release of Mr. Worboys, 60.
Specifically, it said that the board had erred in not looking more deeply into Mr. Worboys’s offenses, and “in particular, the extent to which the limited way in which he has described his offending may undermine his overall credibility and reliability.”
The High Court also suggested that the parole board could have considered Mr. Worboys’s statements about the dozens of assaults for which he was not prosecuted, but that the police said he had committed. He was convicted of 19 offenses against 12 women, but the police, and a previous High Court ruling, have put the total number of his victims at “well in excess of 100.”
The chairman of the Parole Board of England and Wales, Nick Hardwick, had said that the board had always understood that it could not take into account anything beyond the counts on which he was convicted.
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The court also said that a much-criticized rule prohibiting parole boards from revealing publicly anything about their decision-making must be changed. “It seems to us that there are clear and obvious reasons why” the principle of transparent justice should apply to the parole process, the judges said.
David Gauke, the British justice secretary, said the government would replace the secrecy rule “as soon as possible.”
Mr. Worboys’s case has drawn an uproar before, leading to changes in the criminal justice system. After his arrest a decade ago, it emerged that the police had not taken seriously some women’s accusations against him, allowing the assaults to continue. That prompted changes in police training and the treatment of sexual assault complainants.
After the court’s order on Wednesday, Mr. Hardwick stepped down as chairman of the parole board. He had advocated greater openness, but wrote in an open letter that in light of the Worboys case, Mr. Gauke had told him that his position was untenable.
The board has more than 200 members. Three are ordinarily assigned to each case, and their names are not revealed. The High Court told the board to have the Worboys case heard again by a different set of three people, and to consider whether “a serving or retired judge should chair the panel.”