Taxi driver guilty of sex attacks could be set free in eight years

Rape charities 'outraged' at sentence and £723.33 compensation for victims

A taxi driver who became one of Britain's worst serial sex attackers was jailed indefinitely yesterday, but told he could be freed in just eight years.

John Worboys, 51, molested and in one case raped passengers in the back of his black cab. He operated in central London and preyed on young women who were clearly under the influence of alcohol and offered them free lifts home. Once in his taxi he persuaded the women to drink champagne with him by showing them bundles of cash and pretending he was celebrating a lottery win. When they agreed he would spike the drinks with powerful sedatives and take advantage of his victims when they lost consciousness.

At his trial last month Worboys was convicted of sexually assaulting 12 women, but police believe he may have attacked more than 200. So far 96 victims have been identified, 85 of whom came forward before his conviction and a further 11 in the weeks since. The detectives involved in the case have said that they will visit the former stripper in prison in the hope that he will confess to even more unsolved sex crimes.

Sentencing him at Croydon Crown Court yesterday Mr Justice Penry-Davey told Worboys he had "perfected a web of deceit" to ensnare young women.

The judge added: "Drivers of licensed black cabs in London have a worldwide reputation not only for the reliability of their driving, but for their professional trustworthiness. You exploited that trust and, through the use of alcohol and drugs, you sexually abused young women who trusted you to take them home safely at night." The judge passed an indeterminate jail sentence, saying that Worboys should serve a minimum of eight years before being considered for parole. However he said that the cab driver would not be released until a parole board decided he was no longer a threat to women.

He also ruled that Worboys be banned from driving a passenger vehicle for profit and that the £3,680 cash, which he used as "proof" of his invented tale of lottery success, should be added to the £5,000 recouped from the sale of his cab and divided between the 12 victims. They will get £723.33 each.

But the sentence has angered rape campaigners. A spokeswoman for Rape Crisis said: "We are outraged that this serial rapist will be eligible for parole in just eight years' time. Our judiciary should be sending out the strong, clear message that rape is considered a serious violent crime, and sentencing accordingly.

"Instead, this case serves as another stark reminder that our criminal justice system continues to fail women who have been subjected to sexual violence, a fact which is reflected in their continued reluctance to report."

The police investigation is currently the subject of an Independent Police Complaints Commission inquiry after it emerged that officers had missed the chance to catch Worboys more than seven months before he was eventually charged.

In that instance a 19-year-old student from Eltham, south London, complained that she was given drink and drugs and then sexually molested by Worboys. Officers at Plumstead police station arrested and interviewed him and also did toxicology tests, but, despite the incriminating results of those tests, which found suspicious drugs in the victim's blood, decided there was not enough evidence to hand the file to the Crown Prosecution Service for consideration. Worboys went on to sexually assault at least another six women, one of whom he raped, before he was eventually caught.

Yesterday the court heard that he still denies sexually assaulting the women. His barrister Jeremy Gold QC said: "The psychiatric report indicates that he is not suffering from any mental disorder. He's not diagnosed as being a psychopath or as having any personality disorder." But, the barrister added, "He continues to deny the offences of which he has been convicted."