A serial sex attacker remained free to continue preying on women because police officers made serious mistakes during their investigations and failed to take victims seriously, the Independent Police Complaints Commission will rule today.
But the IPCC caused anger and dismay among campaigners by stopping short of recommending disciplinary hearings against those involved. It means that all the officers will remain in their jobs.
The IPCC identified "individual and systemic" issues within the Metropolitan police during its inquiry into John Worboys, a black-cab driver who remained at large to drug, rape and sexually assault at least 85 victims despite numerous women reporting attacks over many years. The commission upheld complaints against five out of eight Metropolitan Police officers, ranked constable, sergeant and inspector, recommending two should be given written warnings and three should receive words of advice. But there were no recommendations that any officers should face disciplinary hearings where the ultimate sanction would be dismissal.
The 21-year-old victim at the centre of the main complaint said last night she had been "lied to and laughed at" by police officers when she gave them her account of a suspected assault by Worboys in July 2007. She said: "If something like this had happened in a private business, people would have been sacked. I just do not see how these people can carry on in the police in Britain." But Deborah Glass, deputy chair of the IPCC, said written warnings were the most serious punishment short of a misconduct hearing.
"I think on the evidence available the written warnings outcome was right," she said. "They are a serious sanction requiring officers to accept they have breached the police code of conduct and have failed in some way. People will say, if you cannot sack them what's the point? But there is still a point, there are important points around learning here. It is not about slamming the Metropolitan police. This is their wake-up call." She acknowledged that had the police officers at the centre of the inquiry not committed "serious errors of judgment" and "missed crucial investigative opportunities" when Worboys could have been stopped before he went on to assault more women. "There's certainly a likelihood that if they had followed up lines of inquiry he would have been in custody much earlier," she said.
Worboys preyed on around at least seven more women between July 2007 and his second arrest in February 2008. He was eventually jailed indefinitely last year for drugging and sexually assaulting women. Definitely linked to 85 sex crimes but suspected of being responsible for more than 100 attacks in total, he is one of Britain's most prolific sex attackers.
Debaleena Dasgupta, a solicitor who represents rape victims, said women had to know that officers would be punished for wrongdoing. "If the IPCC are going to let the police act like this, then victims have nowhere to turn to," she said.
The Met called in IPCC officials when two victims complained about their treatment at the hands of investigators. Scotland Yard has now overhauled the way rape and sexual offences are investigated, forming the country's first rape intelligence unit. Simon Foy, head of homicide and serious crime at the Met, said last night: "It was not our finest hour, and I think we have put our hands up to that. We regret very much what happened."
The IPCC inquiry found individual and systemic failings in the Met. In one police report a detective constable dealing with the July 2007 victim had written: "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." Other findings included:
• Officers adopting a mindset that a black-cab driver "would not commit such an offence", and failing to challenge Worboys, who was identified by his cab number in CCTV footage in July 2007, over his account.
• Failing to search his home for evidence, and making no attempts to corroborate the victims' accounts.
• Failing to check his story or re-interview him after hearing the July 2007 victim's full statement.
Worboys was arrested and released without charge after the woman came forward in July 2007 and officers chose to believe his account, not hers. Seven months later he was arrested again when police finally put together years of missed intelligence. The IPCC report acknowledged "significant" work done in response to the failings in the Worboys case and that of another undetected serial rapist, Kirk Reid. But it called on the Met to address the perception that women are not be taken seriously when reporting rape and other sex offences, recommending better information for victims, case updates, and liaison with agencies where women feel uncomfortable going to the police.
21/1/2010: EDIT: As of today's Guardian, the Chief of the Met has asked the IPCC to review their investigation.