A petition calling for anyone suspected of sexual offences to be granted anonymity until they are charged with a crime, barring exceptional circumstances, has been backed by pop star Sir Cliff Richard and DJ Paul Gambaccini.
In 2014, South Yorkshire Police raided Sir Cliff’s Berkshire home while investigating an allegation into historical sexual offences. However, he was not arrested or charged with any offence, and he successfully sued the BBC for breach of privacy after it broadcast footage of the raid.
This came a year after Mr Gambaccini was arrested over sexual abuse allegations, which were later dropped.
The pair are supporting a parliamentary petition launched by campaign group Falsely Accused Individuals for Reform (Fair), which needs 100,000 signatures in order to be considered for a debate in parliament.
Speaking to Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Gambaccini said the fact his case was publicised made the year he spent on bail much more difficult, while the “cloud of suspicion” over him led to the BBC taking him off air “without anyone from management even asking me what it had been about”.
“All members of my family around the world were contacted by the British media while I was still being interviewed in the police station,” he continued. “This must be stopped."
Critics of the campaign have argued that publicly naming suspects following their arrest can encourage more victims to come forward. However, Mr Gambaccini responded by stating that further victims would still be able to report their abuse if a suspect was named only after being charged.
“This is not a competition, who has been hurt the most,” he said. "There are actually two crises - one is a sex abuse crisis and the other is a false allegation crisis. When you solicit more accusations, most of them turn out to be false."
Sir Cliff added that he was treated “appallingly” when his name was “wrongfully exposed in the media. The stigma of a false allegation sticks and something must be done to redress the balance,” he said. “I’m sure there are those who still to this day say there is no smoke without fire.”
Peter Garsden, Head of Abuse Claims at Simpson Millar Solicitors, commented, “I do not believe this petition will be successful in changing the law, as there isn’t the political will to grant complete anonymity to those accused of abuse.
“I understand that argument because the wait for an abuse case to be dropped can be agonising, but the policy to not arrest a person – especially someone with a high media profile – on a whim, and know what the backlash will be if no charges are made.
“If a name is released before charges are brought, it is because the police believe many other victims are yet to come forward. There have been countless occasions when publicity surrounding an abuse case has prompted further victims to speak out and therefore strengthen the case against the accused.
“Whilst false accusations are sometimes made, they are very much in the minority and certainly not enough to persuade parliament to change the law. No similar law of anonymity applies to people accused of other crimes, such as burglary or murder, so why should it be different for celebrities charged with sexual offences?”
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