Worboys parole case fall-out

Two more contributions to the continuing debate.

I am writing in response to the letter by the psychologists, known as P12 and P1, in the Radford (Worboys) case (‘Psychological expert evidence and the Parole Board’, Letters, May 2018). The correspondents are quite correct to imply that the standard of discussion and debate has been poor, lacking in an evidence base and resulting in treatment of these individuals by the press that has been disgraceful at times. Indeed, the stress that these professionals have been placed under as a result of this negative exposure is something that none of us would wish for, and I personally reached out to offer support when the story first broke. However, their criticism of the British Psychological Society is somewhat misplaced and ill-informed.

It is not the role of the professional body to offer support for specific work that specific psychologists have carried out – fundamentally we are not in possession of any of the evidence, facts or material upon which they have based their decisions or recommendations and hence not in a position to defend individual practice. The authors of the letter are quite right, however, to point out that it is the role of the professional body to encourage more positive debate and discourse and encourage an evidence base.

Your correspondents may not be aware that the Division of Forensic Psychology (DFP) has been working with the National Union of Journalists over the past year, including holding a free conference event for journalists where speakers included myself, Peter Kinderman, Lawrence Jones, Chris Greenwood (Crime Editor for the Daily Mail), Emily Pennink (Old Bailey Crime Correspondent) and Erwin James. We repeated a similar event at our conference last year. We have released a number of press statements and positions regarding the nature of the profession, our challenges and other situations facing psychology in prisons – widely available through the BPS press office. I have also represented the DFP at a number of public events discussing the representation of crime and mental health in the media.

The treatment of these practitioners has undoubtedly been entirely unacceptable; however, the professional body has been working to encourage more responsible reporting across all forms of media and doing this in a proactive manner. While we cannot defend the work of individuals, we continue our efforts to place the profession at the centre of debates and discussion. I do not support individuals with a media presence who might choose to become an ill-informed mouthpiece for the profession and will continue to encourage more informed opinion and debate.

The profession of forensic psychology is facing a number of challenges and without question this is something we need to address head on. The issue of evidence-based practice and decision making is current and acute. To that end, I have instituted a working party of the DFP Committee to produce a position paper regarding the professional practice and the relationship with best evidence available. We do not have control over every aspect of the profession and organisational decision making. We can, however, continue our efforts to ensure our decisions are defensible, made on the basis of best evidence and reported as responsibly as possible.

Salacious reporting and challenge will always be an issue facing this kind of work, which is difficult, risky and personally very challenging. I sympathise greatly with the writers of your previous letter as all do in our profession. Should they wish to engage with the professional body to look for support and contribute to the working party, they would be very welcome. In any event, they have my personal and our professional support while they go through a very difficult time.

Dee Anand
Chair, BPS Division of Forensic Psychology

We are all hampered by limited access both to the full documentation about Mr Radford (Worboys) and to the content of the risk assessment interviews undertaken by Psychologists P12 and P1 (‘Psychological expert evidence and the Parole Board’, Letters, May 2018). Can we assume that they accessed and reviewed the available witness statements and other collateral information from the original police investigation such that they were able to compare and contrast Mr Radford’s accounts of his actions with what was otherwise known (West & Greenall, 2011)? Subsequent developments appear to confirm shortcomings in what the public reasonably expected to have been included in a comprehensive assessment of the circumstances of Mr Radford’s offending. But rather than admit that as a consequence they might have misunderstood his risk of harm, Psychologists P12 and P1 instead appear to plead for greater understanding and restoration of reputation on the basis of their claimed ‘psychological professionalism and expertise’.

One of ‘the very issues that so concern the public’ that Psychologists P12 and P1 appear to bypass in their letter is that as a cab driver, Mr Radford not only betrayed a position of trust over a hundred times but he also stupefied many of his victims before sexually assaulting them. This repeated pattern of offending appears to place Mr Radford a considerable way along the dimension of sadistic sexual offending with all of the associated correlates of planning, scripting, premeditation (including possession of a ‘rape kit’), previous behavioural try-outs, near misses, masturbatory fantasy, escalation and compulsive offending. Aware of the relative low frequency of cab drivers deliberately sedating their passengers in order to sexually assault them, the public may reasonably have a commonsense expectation that in fulfilling their responsibility to protect the public, any expert providing an opinion about Mr Radford’s risk of sexual offending would thoroughly investigate these features of his offending behaviour, probe his explanations and compare them with what is known in the literature.

In a commonsense way, they may also reasonably expect any expert to explain the extent to which they could rely on Mr Radford’s account when (according to press reports) he was only very recently claiming his innocence by requesting a referral of his case through the CCRC? Sometimes, it is ill advised to demean commonsense understanding, especially when the public, for the most part, still retain consideration of the nature of lifelong harm and injury to a victim.

Consequently, there is a general feeling that Psychologists P12 and P1 are ‘truly…naive and duped’. Without access to the documentation, I cannot know to what extent the possibilities I have raised were addressed in their reports, but I do know that in presenting an opinion to a Parole Board, what is needed is an investigative attitude and thoroughness in the detail of the individual case, not facile obfuscation by referring to an aggregated data set. How many of the 7000 UK convicted sex offenders committed sexual assaults against lone female strangers in the back of cabs after tricking and sedating them?

The BPS does not have a responsibility to uphold the reputations of individual clinicians. However, what it cannot continue to avoid is the resulting decline in public confidence and its responsibility to improve standards of competence in clinical risk assessment.

Adrian G. West
Forensic and Clinical Psychologist, Chorley

West, A.G. & Greenall, P.V. (2011). Incorporating index offence analysis into forensic clinical assessment. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 16, 144–159.

Illustration: Tim Sanders

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