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Paul Vallely: Take the right action after Worboys

19 January 2018

Beware meddling with the Parole Board process, says Paul Vallely

The then Justice Secretary David Gauke tells MPs in the House of Commons, in 2014, that the Parole Board had followed the ‘correct procedures’ when informing the victims of John Worboys of his release

The then Justice Secretary David Gauke tells MPs in the House of Commons, in 2014, that the Parole Board had followed the ‘correct procedures’ when in...

YOU can rely on The Sun to be succinct, if not entirely logical. The other day, it carried a story on a psychologist who recommended that the black-cab rapist John Worboys could safely be released from prison. “Shrink who urges leniency for pervs backed rapist Worboys’ release,” it declared. The psychologist, the paper claimed, has in the past argued that only one third of paedophiles are actually dangerous: the majority need treatment rather than incarceration.

Take care. We are entering the territory of moral outrage here. Some concern is appropriate; the Parole Board has decided that, after less than ten years behind bars for sexual assaults on 12 women, Worboys is to be freed on licence, albeit with 14 secret restrictions.

The secrecy is part of the problem. So is the fact that, coincidentally, the M25 child-rapist, Antoni Imiela, who was given seven life sentences in 2004, will soon also be considered for parole. Indignation is high in the media, which is presumably why the Justice Secretary asked lawyers if the Worboys decision could be overturned by judicial review. It is why the Prime Minister has declared that the public needs to know more about the way in which the Parole Board reaches such decisions.

But there is more to the problem than transparency. The police were reprimanded over their handling of Worboys’ prosecution by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which discovered a catalogue of errors of judgement and failures by Scotland Yard detectives, who disbelieved victims or laughed at them when they reported the attacks. Five officers were disciplined, although none was sacked over the slipshod investigation.

Worse than that, a total of 102 women made allegations against Worboys, but only 14 cases were taken to court, only for actual rape. When more victims came forward after the trial, they were told not to worry, because the rapist was inside for life.

Lessons must be learned from those bad decisions. Judicial review may, unusually, be appropriate in this case. But we should take care with Mrs May’s idea of throwing the Parole Board open to scrutiny. That would inevitably lead to constant pressure to overturn decisions fuelled not by psychological or penal expertise, but by social-media outrage. The real problem with this case is not the Parole Board, but the botched prosecution process, and the sentence that the judge was able to give as a result of it.

It was bad that the victims of Worboys were not privately informed of the decision to parole him before it was made public. But we should pause before we allow victims access to influence the Parole Board process. Our judicial and policing system needs to take greater care of victims, but that does not mean that they should be allowed a direct influence on judicial decision-making. Criminals are tried for the offences they do to society, not simply to the individuals whom they hurt. That is what separates vengeance from justice.

Some action needs to be taken as a result of the bungling of the Worboys case. But not the wrong action.

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