The driver of a black cab, who was named as one of Britain's worst serial sex attackers, could have been caught months earlier if police had believed the evidence of one of his victims.
John Worboys, 51, was convicted yesterday of sexually assaulting 12 women after plying them with spiked champagne which he persuaded them to drink by pretending he was celebrating a lottery win. Police believe he attacked more than 200 women during his 13 years as a licensed taxi driver. So far they have identified 85 victims.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission has launched an investigation after admitting that detectives missed the chance to catch Worboys more than seven months before he was eventually charged.
A 19-year-old university student from Eltham, south-east London, complained that she was given drink and drugs and then sexually molested by Worboys. Officers at Plumstead police station took a statement from the witness and arrested and interviewed him.
They also studied CCTV footage and did forensic tests, but they believed Worboys's version of events and discontinued his bail in October 2007 saying there was not enough evidence to proceed. He went on to sexually assault at least six women, one of whom he raped.
Worboys held his head in his hands and sobbed as he was convicted of raping a 27-year-old woman he picked up near Tottenham Court Road, central London, on 21 December 2007. The judge at Croydon Crown Court, Mr Justice Penry-Davey, told the cab driver to expect a "very substantial term of imprisonment" as he adjourned sentencing until 21 April.
His former girlfriend, Kathy Martin, 44, who offered to be a prosecution witness, left the court in tears. She said Worboys lived a double life and she had no idea of his crimes.
Yesterday the IPCC announced that it would review the police investigation into the July 2007 complaint. Senior officers at Scotland Yard took the rare step of referring their investigation to the IPCC. The Met has made changes to how future sexual assault investigations are conducted. From now on it will be compulsory that cases are forwarded to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
The IPCC commissioner for London, Deborah Glass, said: "It is concerning that despite the Metropolitan Police arresting Worboys in the summer of 2007, he went on to attack more women. There were specific concerns about the investigation into the July 2007 attack. As a result, the IPCC will be examining the investigation and the issues it raises."
Commander Mark Simmons, of the Met, said: "The issue about the IPCC referral clearly comes out of concern for anything that falls short of what would be expected, so it is clearly disappointing."
Warboys went on to attack at least six women before being arrested and charged in February 2008. After an eight-week trial, he was convicted of 19 of the 21 charges levelled against him.
Detective Inspector Dave Reid said: "He has subjected women to an appalling series of offences. Worboys took advantage of his position of trust. He used his position to carry out degrading, humiliating attacks.
"Having dealt with the women who gave evidence, his refusal to accept what he has done and his insistence on putting them through giving evidence at Crown Court, complete with his horrific suggestions of what they may have done to him, is absolutely appalling."
The detective said the 85 women who came forward are unlikely to be all Worboys's victims. He added: "I think there will be other women who have felt foolish that they have done it. I think it unfortunate because he is not only a sex offender but a very good fraudster."
There is a phone line– 0800 121 4441 – for potential victims to come forward.
Reign of terror: Where Worboys attacked
*14 October 2006 Victim one picked up in west London. Worboys gives her "aspirin". Offers her champagne to celebrate casino win. Assaults her. She goes to police but later withdraws allegation.
*9 November 2006 Victim two picked up in Regent Street. Worboys claims to have won £70,000. Gives her champagne which leaves her unconscious. Incident is not reported.
*4 April 2007 22-year-old picked up near Oxford Circus. Victim refuses champagne. Worboys drops her off and says: "You've really wasted my time."
*28 June 2007 Picks up woman in Regent Street. Tells her he has won £47,000. She remembers Worboys kissing her.
*July 2007 19-year-old refuses champagne but accepts £50 to drink vodka. Her 14-minute route from west London to East Sheen takes nearly two hours.
*25 July 2007 19-year-old student flags cab at Covent Garden to take her to Eltham. She drinks champagne and Worboys pushes a pill in her mouth. She wakes with blood in her underwear.
*27 July Worboys arrested for the Eltham attack but later released. Police close investigation three months later.
*20 December 2007 Worboys picks up virgin who is a lesbian in Tottenham Court Road for trip to Putney. Rapes her, later sends her £10 in a Christmas card.
*2 January 2008 Picks up 29-year-old. Asks if she'll have sex for money. Worboys says he's always wanted to rape a prostitute. She escapes.
*31 January 2008 Picks up woman in Soho. She has drink. Wakes to find dress ridden up and Worboys fiddling with belt. DNA on his vibrator linked to her.
*5 February 2008 Collects woman in London Bridge. She remembers nothing but traces of oil from a condom are found in her underwear.
*13 February 2008 Picks up 30-year-old in Soho for trip to Shepherd's Bush. She notices pill and foil on top of drink. Worboys offers her £5,000 for sex act.
*14 February 2008 Picks up 18-year-old in Soho. She remembers nothing but 30-minute trip takes more than an hour.
*15 February 2008 Worboys arrested.
Former stripper used 'tool-kit' to molest his victims
Stepping into the back of his black hackney carriage, the passengers picked up by John Worboys were entitled to feel safe, writes Mark Hughes. The 51-year-old was a registered London taxi driver. He had passed stringent tests and acquired "The Knowledge" – the unrivalled familiarity with roads and routes that all the capital's cabbies must have.
But, as he set off on his nightly rounds, Worboys carried with him something else: a sickening "tool kit" with all the paraphernalia he needed to drug and sexually assault young women. In a two-year period, the former male stripper is believed to have raped, attacked and abused up to 200 women in the back of his taxi.
He did it by lying; conning women into believing he had won large sums of money while gambling and convincing them to join him in toasting his victory. When they agreed, he would spike their champagne with sedatives and molest them. His first attack using this method was in 2006, but police officers believe he was responsible for four other attacks dating back to 2002. In total, 85 women, all aged between 18 and 33, came forward to say they were sexually assaulted by Worboys.
Yesterday, he was found guilty of drugging and sexually assaulting 12 of the 14 women who gave evidence at his trial. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided not to proceed with formal charges in the cases of the other 71 women in order to keep the trial manageable in court. But police believe his victims could potentially number more than 200, with many women yet to come forward.
Worboys was arrested once during his spree but detectives did not forward the case to the CPS and he was freed. He went on to attack at least six women before he was finally charged in February 2008.
The first known attack was in October 2006 when Worboys picked up a 25-year-old woman on King's Road in Chelsea and offered her a free lift to her home in Fulham. En route he gave her some "aspirin" when she complained of a headache. He then told her that he had won a large amount of money at a casino and asked if she would join him in a celebratory drink. She agreed and he stopped the taxi in a side street where the pair drank champagne. Her memory was "patchy" but she remembered waking up to find Worboys with his hand up her skirt.
She reported the matter to police but later withdrew the complaint, saying the investigation was moving slowly and she wanted to get on with her life. Over the next nine months he sexually assaulted or attempted to assault at least five other women, but none went to police.
It wasn't until he attacked his seventh victim, in July 2007, that Worboys was arrested. A 19-year-old student said Worboys picked her up from Covent Garden and told her he had won £3,000. He gave her champagne and, when she became drowsy, he joined her in the back and forced a pill into her mouth. When she awoke the next day she feared she had been sexually assaulted and went to the police.
Officers visited his home in Sovereign Crescent, Rotherhithe, but he was not there. Upon returning home, Worboys realised the police were on to him and handed himself in. He was interviewed, had his DNA taken and was bailed. But officers decided there was insufficient evidence to mount a successful prosecution and did not even pass the file to the CPS.
Crucially, they didn't search his house, where they would have found his "tool kit" which included boxes of wine, Jack Daniels whisky, gin, vodka, small bottles of Tesco champagne, wine glasses, two types of sedative drugs, a box of condoms, and a vibrator. They also found a map, a large number of plastic gloves, a torch and powerful sedative medication.
Despite the police intrusion, Worboys continued his attacks, going out almost every night trawling the streets for women, officers believe. He attacked at least six women in the next seven months, four of whom reported their ordeal to police the next day. It wasn't until February last year, after five individual complaints, that officers realised it was the same man carrying out the attacks.
On 15 February, Worboys was arrested. Coincidentally, on the same day, police issued an appeal for information through the media and nine other women came forward.
During his seven-week trial, Croydon Crown Court heard in horrific detail how Worboys attacked his victims. In one case he told a woman who refused his spiked champagne: "you've really wasted my time tonight". In another, he plied a 25-year-old with alcohol and drugs. She said she was a virgin and a lesbian and had no interest in sleeping with a man. But she awoke in the back of his cab to find him raping her.
Another woman agreed to a drink, telling the court she felt sorry for him. She woke up in the back of his cab to find her dress pulled up with Worboys kneeling above her undoing his belt. Her DNA was later found on a vibrator at Worboys's home.
As time went on, Worboys became more aggressive. In one incident he didn't wait for his sedatives to take effect before assaulting a 29-year-old. He told her it was his fantasy to rape a prostitute. When she said she was not a prostitute, he exposed himself and groped her breasts. She was so afraid she urinated on herself and ran away. As she fled, he shouted: "You can't go and say you've been raped because I always use a Durex."
But the net was closing in on Worboys. On Valentine's Day last year, he attacked his final victim, an 18-year-old he picked up in Soho. The following morning officers arrested him. A plastic cup the girl had drunk champagne from still had remnants of alcohol and sedative drugs and her DNA was found on the rim. Police also found his "tool kit" and £3,680 in cash.
In court, Worboys admitted lying to his passengers and asking them to drink champagne with him. He said it was "banter" designed to attract the female attention he so desperately craved. His previous career was that of a male stripper, "Terry the Minder", but that ended in 1999 when he was 42. He still owns a pornographic film studio in Dorset. He said he yearned for love: "I think it is due to my mum dying when I was young. I lost her when I was 13 and all my friends were getting attention and cuddles and stuff like that. I just did not think I was getting attention."
But he refused to admit he had sexually assaulted the women, forcing them to give evidence in court, something detectives suggest he enjoyed. At one point he wept as he was asked if he had ever drugged and sexually assaulted women. "I haven't," he claimed. "And I think anyone who does that is an evil, evil person."
Women brave attacker in court
The victims of John Worboys braved the trauma of reliving their ordeals to give evidence in court, ultimately convicting the man who had attacked them.
His first victim, a 26-year-old from Fulham, recounted her tale to the jury: "I remember him being in the back of the cab, trying to put his hand up my skirt. I felt his hand on the top of my leg and that is when I opened my eyes and started shouting. I was completely lost. I had no idea what was going on."
His sixth victim was a 27-year-old lesbian office worker from Putney. Remembering her ordeal, she said: "I said I hadn't been with anyone, I hadn't slept with anyone in my life before and that I was gay and wasn't interested in men."
She explained how she slipped out of consciousness and awoke to find her trousers open and Worboys on top of her. "I had been sexually assaulted, raped," she told the jury.
"I knew something had happened. I felt just awful, horrible. I had pain, something had been pushed into me. I felt something. I had been violated."
Victim number seven, a 30-year-old broker, said that Worboys offered her £1,000 to perform a sex act on him. Weeping in the witness box, she added: "He went on to talk about his fantasies of having sex with a prostitute. I told him I wasn't a prostitute."
The ninth victim was a 35-year-old from Dulwich. She drank some of Worboys' champagne and explained: "The next thing I remember is suddenly coming to, waking up in the back of the taxi. I immediately felt quite frightened and my skirt was pushed up to the top of my legs.
"I asked him: 'What are you doing?' He was sitting on the seat next to me. He was fiddling. I could hear a belt noise. He was fiddling with the waistband area of his trousers." DNA from the woman was later found on a vibrator belonging to Worboys.
Another woman was on her first night out after giving birth to her child when she was attacked by Worboys.
Oil from a condom was found in her underwear. She told the jury: "I could have been raped for all I know, but I cannot remember what happened on that night."
Mark HughesReuse content