The news that John Worboys must now remain in prison is extremely welcome. Credit should go to the wisdom of the High Court, and most importantly to the bravery of two of those attacked by Worboys in choosing to bring a legal challenge against the Parole Board’s erroneous decision. All those who helped to fund the case, too, have played their part in securing justice, in helping to protect the public from a dangerous serial rapist, and in establishing a precedent which should lead to stricter parole assessment in future.
The Chairman of the Parole Board has duly resigned, reportedly having been told by the Justice Secretary that his position had become “untenable” due to the errors made in the original decision. That’s fair enough, but it’s unfortunate that it was left to victims to bring their own challenge to it.
David Gauke’s first instinct was to fight the decision to release Worboys, as the papers learned and duly reported. He evidently should have stuck to it. Instead, he uncharacteristically second-guessed himself, and ended up retreating from his own hype.
As Harry Phibbs wrote at the time, it isn’t really sufficient explanation to say that the MoJ’s lawyers advised that such a case had poor chances of success. For a start, we now know that those lawyers were wrong. But even if they had been correct about the odds, it would have been better, given the severity of the issue, for the Government to fight for what it and the vast majority of the public believed to be right.
Other cases, with far less of public interest merit, have been fought (and lost) on slim chances at vast expense, so why not fight this one? Ministers, not lawyers, run the Government, and pursuing a slim chance of keeping someone like Worboys in jail is better than not trying at all to prevent his release.
Even worse than not trying at all, of course, is allowing national newspapers to believe that you’re going to mount a challenge, and then failing to do so, after you’ve won public support for the idea of fighting the decision. The Grand Old Duke of York’s unfortunate musical reputation teaches that it’s better to either keep the troops in barracks, or finish the job after you’ve chosen to march them out – not starting off only to change your mind half way.
The Grand Old Duke of Gauke might well now wish that he had stuck with his gut, rather than falling into that trap.