Page last updated at 14:32 GMT, Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Police disciplined over taxi sex attacker Worboys

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News

John Worboys
Worboys could have been stopped, says watchdog

Five police officers have been disciplined over an inquiry into sex assault claims against a taxi driver.

John Worboys was jailed indefinitely in 2009 for raping one woman and attacking others in his London black cab. He is thought to have assaulted 100 women.

A proper inquiry could have prevented some of the attacks, the Independent Police Complaints Commission said.

Seven of them came after police made Worboys prime suspect, but officers did not initially search his home or cab.

The IPCC said lives were ruined because police failed to take the case seriously. A detective sergeant and inspector had received written warnings and three other officers had been given "formal words of advice".

Victims 'let down'

The Metropolitan Police has admitted that officers let down victims. Its commissioner has also asked the IPCC to confirm it is "fully satisfied" with the disciplinary action, in light of claims that officers laughed at one complainant.

Worboys would pick up women late at night in London's West End and offer them a glass of champagne in his black cab, claiming to be celebrating a lottery or casino win.

The drink was mixed with sedatives that left the victims unable to defend themselves from assault.

The police watchdog investigated two complaints from victims, one from 2003 and another whose 2007 attack was part of the eventual prosecution.

The IPCC said that the Metropolitan Police identified Worboys as the prime suspect in 2007 - but failed to properly investigate.

The officer who interviewed the taxi driver did not know the full allegations.

Senior officers did not order a search of Worboys's home or taxi. When officers eventually had a better idea of the case, they did not bring the suspect back in.

The police report of one attack stated: "The victim cannot remember anything past getting in the cab, it would seem unlikely that a cab driver would have alcohol in his vehicle let alone drug substances."

These victims had a terrible experience with Worboys and that was made worse by the police response
Deborah Glass, IPCC

Worboys is known to have gone on and assaulted seven more women.

In the case of the 2003 victim, an officer failed to contact a witness who might have been able to identify John Worboys as the attacker.

One victim, a 19-year-old student when she was attacked in July 2007, said officers "just laughed" when she reported the assault.

"I felt like I was the criminal. I did not feel like I was the victim at all, and I certainly was not treated like one," said the woman, who cannot be identified for legal reasons.

"It felt like I had to prove my case because they were not willing to listen to me or look into what I was saying."

She believes people should have been sacked.

IPCC commissioner Deborah Glass said: "It's impossible to say for certain what would have happened if the police had followed up the lines of inquiry [in 2007], but it's highly likely that Worboys would have been arrested at that point and may well not have had the opportunity to commit further crimes.

"This case highlights real concerns about the overall police response and the culture. There was also a culture that a black cab driver could not possibly have committed these offences.

"These victims had a terrible experience with Worboys and that was made worse by the police response."

'Profoundly sorry'

Ms Glass criticised the Met for not referring the case to the watchdog when the scale of their internal concerns first emerged in early 2008.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson acknowledged that mistakes in the case had resulted in "profound consequences".

He said: "Those were that we ended up with victims of the most heinous crimes that should not have been victims. I am profoundly sorry.

"Irrespective of the circumstances of this particular case... I would take the dimmest view of any officer who laughed at a victim."

He said he was not criticising the IPCC in asking whether it was satisfied with the disciplinary action it had recommended. Rather, he wanted to ensure it had been aware of the victim's claims beforehand.

IPCC investigator John Cummins, who led the report, said he was first made aware of the laughter claim on Monday evening.

Since Worboys's arrest, the Met has overhauled the way officers investigate sexual assault allegations by creating a central intelligence unit to catch serial offenders.

However, Metropolitan Police Authority member Jenny Jones said: "I'm still not convinced this couldn't happen again."

She called for the officers involved to be "punished properly" to send a "strong signal" to all police about how seriously their actions were viewed.

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