- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

LONDON (AP) - The driver of one of London’s iconic black cabs was sentenced to at least eight years in prison Tuesday for an 18-month campaign of rape and assault against his female passengers.

Prosecutors said John Worboys, 51, repeatedly drugged and sexually assaulted women who had been out late drinking, telling them he’d won some cash while gambling and inviting them to join him in a celebratory glass of champagne. Secreted inside the drinks were sedatives, and those who joined him in a drink often remembered little of what happened next.

However one woman told Croydon Crown Court in south London that what should have been a 40-minute trip home took three hours. Some were left with semen stains on their clothes, and items or DNA from other victims was found by police at Worboys’ home.

Worboys denied the charges, but he was found guilty last month of assaulting 12 women. More women have come forward since then, and detectives have linked him to at least 85 crimes.

The assaults were particularly troubling because black cabs, the distinctive sedans that ferry busy Londoners across the city, are advertised as one of the capital’s safest forms of transport, particularly for women. Black cab drivers undergo rigorous testing and are subject to criminal checks. The black cabs often touted as a safe alternative to unregulated cabs that try to poach customers by undercutting official rates: One poster visible across London warns female passengers they risk of rape if they step into an illegal cab.

Justice David Penry-Davey told Worboys that he had abused black cab drivers’ “worldwide reputation” for reliability and trustworthiness to “ensnare young, intelligent and sensible women who had enjoyed a night out and whose only mistake, as it turned out, was to get into your cab late at night.”

The judge said Penry-Davey said Worboys would have to serve eight years in prison, and could be held longer if officials judge he remains a threat to women.

Police have been widely criticized for mishandling the case. An opportunity to end the sex assault spree was missed when he was arrested in July 2007 after a 19-year-old student reported having a pill forced into her mouth after sharing a drink with Worboys. Police did not act on toxicology tests showing suspicious drugs in her blood and did not bother searching Worboys’ home or examining his vehicle to check his story.

Britain’s police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, is investigating.

Worboys has been banned from serving as a taxi driver. Money raised by the sale of his black cab will be split among his victims.

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