New row over advice given to John Worboys parole board

Jamie Doward
The decision to release black cab rapist John Worboys was taken only after extensive consultation, says the parole board. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Prison and probation officials have complained that disproportionate weight was given to external advice in the controversial decision to release “taxi rapist” John Worboys, the Observer has been told.

An independent psychologist, hired by Worboys’s defence team, drew up a report, making the case for his release, that ran contrary to the opinions of some Prison Service officials. The psychologist, whose identity is protected by parole board procedures, had previously called for Worboys, jailed in 2009 for attacks on 12 women and suspected of scores more, to be moved to an open prison. The request was rejected in 2016.

However, after conducting interviews with Worboys last year, the expert, who has decades of experience working with sex offenders, produced a report for Worboys’s lawyers endorsing his release which was then submitted to the three-strong parole board panel hearing the case. Its decision to approve Worboys’s release shocked his victims, who have questioned whether he has been sufficiently rehabilitated.

It is currently unclear whether Worboys has undergone a sex offender rehabilitation programme or admitted his guilt – normally a precursor to release. In 2015 he launched an appeal against his sentence, proclaiming his innocence.


The Parole Board is able to assess the continued risk posed by prisoners based on psychiatrist and prison guard reports at Parole Board hearings that take place around once a year for each offender. Some of the hearings are oral, some of them written.

In November, a three-person panel of the Parole Board directed the release of Worboys, following an oral hearing. He will be released back into society under strict monitoring on a licence period of at least 10 years.

Parole Board hearings are held in private and reasons for release are not made public, although a consultation is to be launched on how the body shares its decision-making with the public.

The Parole Board is an independent body and its recommendation for Worboys’ release cannot be overturned by the Ministry of Justice.

There are examples of Parole Board decisions being challenged by judicial review in the courts, but only when the prisoner has been denied release.

Read a fuller explainer on John Worboys


“The decision to release Worboys is highly controversial,” said Harry Fletcher, an expert on probation and victims’ rights. “The independent report appears to have been very influential in that process. Prison sources have told me that undue prominence was given to the independent report over those provided by prison and probation staff.”

Fletcher said that lawyers acting for prisoners applying for parole were entitled to commission independent experts. Increasingly defence teams commission their own psychological reports. This would usually involve at least two interviews with the applicant in jail. “The report does not have to be submitted, but if put forward it can be influential,” Fletcher said. “It is controversial, as prison staff are paid to assess inmates and have considerable experience of monitoring behaviour and risk over many years.”

The news comes as the justice secretary, David Gauke, is considering a judicial review of the parole board’s decision to release Worboys.

Gauke asked lawyers to prepare a case after four cabinet ministers privately warned him that the decision to free Worboys could be unlawful because his victims have not been consulted about the terms of his release, according to the Sunday Times.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The Secretary of State commissioned mid-last week advice on the plausibility and the prospect of success in a Judicial Review. He would only be minded to move forward on a Judicial Review if there was a reasonable prospect of success.”

A spokeswoman for the parole board said the decision to release Worboys was taken after extensive consultation. “The parole board carefully considered a detailed dossier of evidence of nearly 400 pages and heard evidence from nine witnesses, including four psychologists, two probation officers and three members of prison staff,” she said. “The independent parole board panel took account of all of that evidence. It is simply untrue to say that they were overly influenced by one individual’s evidence.”

(October 14, 2006) Victim one drugged by Worboys


When she comes to, the victim finds Worboys attempting to put his hand inside her underwear. She reports it to the police


(November 10, 2006)  Victim two drugged


Remembers nothing more


(April 5, 2007)  Victim three given a drugged drink which she rejects


She escapes without being assaulted


(June 29, 2007) Victim four drugged


Remembers Worboys kissing her, but nothing more. The following day her legs are bruised


(July 1, 2007) Victim five drugged


Remembers nothing more


(July 26, 2007) 


Victim six claimed she was drugged, but insisted on being taken home without being assaulted. Worboys was found not guilty of administering a drug with intent

Victim seven picked up later the same evening. Drugged and sexually assaulted while unconscious, finding her tampon missing the following day. She reports it to the police


(July 27, 2007)  Worboys arrested


Worboys arrested after his cab's licence plate was identified on CCTV from the building where victim seven lived. Released on police bail and no further action is taken


(October 1, 2007)  Case dropped against Worboys


(December 21, 2007)  Victim eight drugged and raped


She reports the attack to police


(January 3, 2008) Victim nine drugged and sexually assaulted


She reports the attack to police


(January 11, 2008)  Victim 10 claimed she was drugged


Worboys was found not guilty of administering a drug with intent


(January 31, 2008)  Victim 11 drugged


Remembers finding her skirt pushed to her waist. Later discovers from police that she had been forcibly penetrated with a vibrator


(February 5, 2008) Victim 12 drugged and almost certainly raped


She goes to the police


(February 14, 2008) Victim 13 drugged


(February 15, 2008) Victim 14 drugged


The court heard she lost a wristband which was later found at Worboys' home. 

Worboys arrested at 10am on suspicion of repeated sexual assaults


(February 18, 2008) Worboys charged with offences against six women


Total later rises to 14 as more victims come forward 


Worboys was held on an indeterminate prison sentence. These have no fixed length of time and it is up to the parole board to decide when someone on such a sentence is released.

A briefing document explains: “The parole board makes these decisions by assessing the risk the prisoner presents to the public. It may only direct the release of a life sentence prisoner if it is satisfied that it is no longer necessary for him/her to be detained in order to protect the public from serious harm.”

However, the panel’s assessment that Worboys no longer poses a risk to the public is disputed by some of his victims.

Lawyers from Slater and Gordon and Birnberg Peirce – two firms which have represented some of the women he attacked – have written to the Crown Prosecution Service asking it to reassess 93 unprosecuted cases against Worboys. The CPS has rejected the request.

Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru’s spokeswoman on home affairs, last week used a parliamentary question to ask Gauke, to commit to a review “that will consider the role of independent psychologists in advising on offender risk, especially when their advice conflicts with that of probation and prison professionals”.

In response, Gauke said: “As we look at the issue of transparency for parole board decisions, we shall need to look at the evidence with which the board is provided and review the extent to which it should be put in the public domain.”