The chairman of the Parole Board has said he is "very concerned" after some victims were not informed that it had approved the release of the notorious rapist John Worboys.
The imminent release of the former black-cab driver, who drugged and sexually assaulted scores of women in London between 2002 and 2007, has angered MPs, campaigners, and victims – some of whom said they only heard about his release on the news. They are calling on the Parole Board to make the reasons behind the decision public.
Worboys, 60, was convicted in 2009 of 19 offences – including one rape, five sexual assaults, one attempted assault, and 12 drugging charges – and sentenced to eight years imprisonment.
Worboys was described in court as a predator who targeted women in his taxi who were alone, vulnerable, and often desperate to get home.
Parole Board chairman Nick Hardwick told the BBC the decision to release Worboys must have been "very distressing" for victims, and admitted there had been a "lack of transparency".
He added: “[Whoever’s] fault it was I fully accept this was a problem with the parole system. This would have been absolutely horrible for the two women concerned and I apologise unreservedly.”
Lawyer Harriet Wistrich, who represented two women who were attacked by Worboys, said neither had been made aware of his imminent release. She described how one woman found out "while cooking tea for her children".
"It feels like another smack in the face, after having spent years battling for justice to [hold] the police to account for failing to investigate, that they've also not had the courtesy to inform her."
The Ministry of Justice said in a statement: "Some victims in this case chose not to be updated. Others chose to be informed by phone or email and were contacted immediately; others chose to be informed by letters which were sent straight away, but of course take longer."
The spokesperson continued that the department's "priority" was to support victims, and that “it is right that we respect their decisions about how they are contacted."
“These were truly horrendous crimes and our thoughts are with the victims for the pain and suffering they have endured."
On Friday morning 58 MPs, including Stella Creasy and Vince Cable, signed a cross party letter to Lord Chancellor David Lidington, expressing their concern over the move and asking him to "urgently investigate how this decision has been managed".
"We are concerned at the management of his application for release and the MoJ's role in this regard, and the questions this may raise for victims and survivors or serious sexual assault," it read. "In particular, being able to make representations is an important component of ensuring that victims of crime are heard within our justice system.
"This is not only a procedural issue about their right to be head; it may also be relevant to the assessment of the risk he may pose to members of the public," it added.
The letter also asked for details of support that has been given to the victims, and for confirmation that contact has been made with victims who have "subsequently come forward with allegations" but "as yet have not had their accusations heard in court".
Justice Committee Chair Bob Neill called the situation "very disturbing" and said he would be asking Hardwick, as chairperson of the Parole Board, to give evidence to the committee over the process. It was "ridiculous", he said, that the Board's reasons behind the decision remained confidential, and he would be backing a move to open proceedings.
Finally, Neill noted that the independent Parole Board could only judge on convictions – not suspicions. "There are separate questions for the CPS to answer about their charging decisions in this case."
London Mayor Sadiq Khan issued a statement on Twitter on Friday morning urging the Parole Board to "reconsider their decision to release this man". He stressed that the public "need answers".
Labour MP Yvette Cooper, a signatory of the letter, called for the Parole Board review to be made public. "Given the seriousness of this case, the Parole Board should publish their reasons immediately so both the decision and the process can be scrutinised before this man is released," she said.
"We also need to know what information and support was given to all the victims before this decision was taken."
Conservative MP Anna Soubry also condemned the decision.
Sophie Walker, Leader of the Women's Equality party, said the decision was a "case study in the failure of the criminal justice system to protect and deliver justice for the victims of sexual violence.
“The Parole Board may have satisfied itself that he can be prevented from ruining even more lives, but that will come as little comfort to the more than 100 women who he is thought to have attacked.”
Yvonne Traynor, chief executive of Rape Crisis South London, condemned the decision. She told the Guardian she felt it was "far too soon for this dangerous and manipulative perpetrator to be released into the public".
A spokesperson for the Rape and Sexual Violence Project, Lisa Thompson, told the BBC it was "a massive failure of women who courageously went to the police in the first place and had then gone to court".
So why is Worboys being let out?
The Parole Board, made up of three people usually chaired by a judge, is bound by the sentencing for the crimes Worboys was convicted of: attacking 12 women, rather than the "hundreds" of women police subsequently estimated in the year after his trial.
Worboys was handed an eight-year imprisonment for public protection (IPP) sentence and has served 10 years including time spent in remand, as the Secret Barrister explains here. IPP sentences, which have since been scrapped, meant individuals convicted of dangerous or sexual crimes had to remain in prison until they were able to demonstrate to the Parole Board that they had been sufficiently rehabilitated.
Having served eight years, Worboys was eligible to appeal to the board for release.
In a statement, the board said: "We can confirm that a three member panel of the Parole Board has directed the release of Mr John Worboys, following an oral hearing.
“The arrangements for Mr Worboys’ release will be managed by the Ministry of Justice.”