Victims of rape and violence being left in dark about attackers' whereabouts by authorities

Lizzie Dearden

Victims of rape and violence are being "let down" and left in the dark about their attackers’ whereabouts, a report has found.

The service provided by the National Probation Service (NPS) was “poor", HM Inspectorate of Probation said in the wake of criticism over "black cab rapist" John Worboys case.

In his case, victims only learned of his release through the media because they were alerted too late by authorities, or not at all.

“It is deeply concerning to see that some victims of serious crime are still being failed by the service,” said Dame Glenys Stacey, the chief inspector of probation. “Some victims are not being offered a service at all, while others are receiving a service that is simply not good enough.”

An inspection found the London division of the NPS was "not supporting the needs of victims of violent and sexual offences well enough".

In more than a fifth of inspected cases, they were not offered access to its Victim Contact Scheme (VCS), which provides updates on the perpetrator’s court case and licence conditions and gives them an opportunity to contribute their views on release plans.

Without it, they may not know if the offender is in custody, how long they have been jailed for or if they have been released and under what conditions.

The report said that even those accessing the scheme were not properly supported and their views were not fully considered when attackers were being freed.

Almost a third of victims in the VCS were not contacted quickly enough after their attacker was sentenced, given enough details or visited in person to ensure their safety, it added.

“This was a missed opportunity to support those who had been subject to violent and sexual offending, and who were arguably the most vulnerable,” the report said.

Inspectors raised concerns about public protection after finding that in one in five inspected cases, probation officers did not have enough contact with offenders to “contact to manage and minimise the risk of harm safely”.

“More attention should be given to protect children and actual or potential victims,” the report said.

Over a third of assessments did not focus enough on assessing the threat to victim, the offenders’ change in circumstances were not reviewed properly and there was an “insufficient focus on public protection at all stages of the sentence in many cases”.

Inspectors highlighted staff shortages at NPS London, which supervises more than 17,000 offenders in 29 offices, 12 approved bail hostels and nine prisons across the capital.

Dame Glenys said: “At the time of inspection, the London division had more than 150 unfilled vacancies and relied heavily on agency and temporary staff. High levels of attrition mean some offices lack experienced staff and this knowledge gap could potentially have an impact on the quality of services.”

She called for the government to “step in” over a national facilities management contract seeing building maintenance neglected and problems with door locks and CCTV leaving staff feeling unsafe.

It has resulted in offices being closed and beds being closed in a bail hostel for released prisoners, despite a national shortage.

In the wake of the Worboys case, which sparked a legal challenge seeing his release quashed, the government announced improvements to how it engages with victims through the parole process nationwide.

The latest report came as the NPS prepares to take control of all offender management in England and Wales, after the government announced the abolition of private companies created by reforms spearheaded by Chris Grayling when he was justice secretary.

NPS London is updating its plan to improve relationships with other agencies in relation to domestic abuse and protecting children.

It is also looking at the transfer of cases from the prosecutors and police, to ensure that all eligible victims are referred to them promptly after criminals are sentenced.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “While the National Probation Service’s work with victims has been consistently rated good or outstanding across the country, improvement is clearly needed in London and we will focus on getting victims the contact and support they need. We have acted quickly to address these issues by creating a new dedicated Victim’s Forum to improve the quality of victim support, introducing new victim-specific training and recruiting across London – with 211 new staff joining over the past year.”