The justice secretary, David Gauke, is seeking legal advice on how to prevent the release of the serial sex attacker John Worboys following mass public outcry, the Conservative party chairman said.
Brandon Lewis said Gauke, who became justice secretary in last week’s cabinet reshuffle, was taking advice on whether to launch a judicial review into the Parole Board’s decision to release the black-cab rapist John Worboys after less than 10 years.
“The secretary of state for justice will be doing everything he can to make sure this man stays behind bars,” Lewis told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show, amid reports that cabinet ministers privately warned Gauke that the decision to release Worboys could be unlawful because of an apparent failure to consult victims.
Worboys was jailed indefinitely in 2009, with a minimum term of eight years, for drugging and sexually assaulting female passengers. He has been linked to 102 complaints, making him one of the country’s most prolific sex offenders. He has been convicted of 19 offences relating to 12 victims.
The decision to release him was met with criticism from those who questioned why all of the complainants who came forward had not seen their cases brought to trial.
Lewis said the government would proceed with a judicial review if it received the advice that it would be a successful route to keeping Worboys behind bars.
“Obviously if the advice is that we can go forward with judicial review in a positive way then we will look to do that,” he said. “I think every victim out there, every friend and family, everyone who has read about this case, will want to know we are doing everything we can.”
Lewis said he understood widespread public anger and victims’ distress about the decision to release Worboys. “I absolutely understand. I know someone who has been through this and been a victim of this but even anybody out there who is reading about this will appreciate just how awful this will be for victims to think about someone like this being out on the street,” he said.
The Ministry of Justice confirmed it was looking at the option of judicial review after it was first reported in the Sunday Times. “The secretary of state is minded to move forward only if there was a reasonable prospect of success,” a spokesman said.
The terms of Worboys’ licence are not yet finalised and victims will have a chance to give their views to the Parole Board on suitable conditions before his release
Victims and campaigners are understood to have already been looking at options for judicial review ahead of Gauke’s own investigations. Sarah Green, from the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said victims would “hopefully have some relief at this news”.
Harriet Wistrich, a lawyer representing one of the victims from Worboys’ criminal trial and another complainant, said: “My clients are keen for anything to be done to stop the release of Worboys, who they are both convinced remains a danger to women … Such a challenge would be unprecedented but, in this case, at the very least they deserve an explanation and an opportunity to be consulted. They have already been badly let down by the police which led them to bring a case against the police for their initial abject failure to investigate him.”
Files relating to 83 separate complainants were referred to the CPS during the police investigation into Worboys. Of those, 14 formed part of the trial while the remaining cases did not pass the “evidential test”.
Following Worboys’ conviction, the Metropolitan police received allegations from a further 19 women.