It was the fiftieth anniversary of the Parole Board last November. Set up by a reforming Home Secretary in 1968, the Parole Board has made a consistent contribution to rehabilitating offenders and helped reduce overcrowding in prison as well.
The Parole Board is independent of government. Its sole criteria for deciding whether to release a prisoner on parole is whether the offender is a risk to the public. The Parole Board comes to decisions after a thorough review of the evidence and has a reputation for being cautious, some would say too cautious. Nick Hardwick, who chairs the Parole Board, says that less than 1% of prisoners released on parole reoffend in any serious way.
You may never have heard of the Parole Board until it recommended the release of John Warboys, known as ‘the black cab rapist’, three weeks ago. All of a sudden, the Parole Board is castigated for coming to a reckless and inexplicable decision. Did Professor Hardwick have a rush of blood to the head? What could have happened?
John Warboys had led a sleazy life before becoming a London taxi driver in 2000 where he picked up women late at night, told them he had come into money and offered them champagne which was laced with sleeping pills. Most of the victims have no recollection of what happened next.
The Metropolitan Police does not come out of this case well. Black cab drivers were held in such esteem that the women who made complaints were not believed. The police failed to link similar incidents together. It was only in 2008 that the Police realised they were dealing with a serial rapist and tracked down Warboys.
The Independent Police Complaint Commission concluded that some of the attacks could have been prevented if the Police had acted more quickly. Two of Warboys victims subsequently received damages for the way their complaints had been handled.
John Worboys was convicted at Croydon Crown Court in March 2009 of one count of rape, five sexual assaults, one attempted assault and 12 drugging charges. He received an indeterminate sentence requiring he serve at least eight years. Mr Justice Penry-Davey said he would not be released until the Parole Board decided he no longer presented a threat to women.
Further allegations came to light after the trial and the Police now believe Warboys assaulted over 100 women over a 13 year period. Other charges may still be pending which leaves a simmering dissatisfaction that his sentence does not meet the scale of misdemeanours. Given the premeditated attacks that Warboys made over a prolonged period it is extremely surprising that he has been granted parole at the first time of asking. The Parole Board must believe he is a reformed character.
The decision was instantly controversial. Some of the victims complained they had not been informed and Nick Hardwick immediately apologised, though it seems the failing may have been from the hard pressed National Probation Service.
The reasons for releasing Warboys are confidential to protect the offender but this appears to embarrass Hardwick who is working towards a more open accountable system as already operates in Canada.
The Justice Secretary, David Gauke, has decided that he cannot instigate a judicial review but some of the victims plan to challenge the decision. Hardwick says he would welcome a review to ensure that the rules have been followed.
Brandon Lewis, the new Chairman of the Conservative Party goes further. He says the government must do everything it can to make sure Warboys stays behind bars. Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan says Warboys should not be allowed to set foot back in London. There was a general furore over the weekend that the decision must be changed and the law reviewed.
Hardwick may have underestimated the political implication of the decisions but I think he has played a blinder. He says “It would be a bad day for us all if people’s rightful abhorrence of Worboys’ crimes or concern about a Parole Board decision allowed these basic principles of justice to be overturned.”
I am dismayed at the way experts are derided these days. It is a sad state of affairs if we cannot appoint well qualified, experienced and clever people to make difficult decisions where expert judgement is required. The Daily Mail and Joe Public does not know best.
We are shocked by the extent of depravity perpetrated in our midst for generations. We have to deal with our feelings of disbelief, disgust and revulsion and must not over react or take the law into our own hands.
In Bristol, an Iranian refugee called Bijan Ebrahimi was beaten to death by his neighbours and then his body set alight, because Ebrahrimi was mistakenly suspected of being a paedophile. The police and the local authority did not deal with the complaints made by Ebrahimi and have deemed found guilty of institutional racism.
It is one of the greatest breakthroughs in society that sex offenders and paedophiles are now coming to justice in huge numbers thanks to the bravery of their victims in speaking out. The days are gone when we unquestionably trust black cab drivers, football coaches and priests.
It also means that people who have committed repugnant crimes against women and children will come back into the community under supervision after serving their sentence and that we will have to learn to live with them again.
Published in Newcastle Journal on 23rd January 2018