SIR Cliff Richard has backed a campaign calling for anonymity for sexual-offence suspects before they are charged.
He told the launch on Monday that media coverage of the police raid on his Berkshire home, in 2014, during an investigation into sexual-assault claims, had left his reputation “in tatters”. He felt physically ill, and had not slept properly for four years. He was never arrested, and he successfully sued the BBC for breach of privacy over its coverage of the raid, which it had filmed from a helicopter.
Currently, alleged victims of sexual offences receive lifelong anonymity, but suspects can be named. Police guidelines, however, advise that people arrested or suspected of any crime should not be identified except in exceptional circumstances, “where there is a legitimate policing purpose to do so”. Once charged, a person can be named.
Standing beside the DJ Paul Gambaccini, who has also been the victim of unsubstantiated sexual-assault claims, Sir Cliff said: “We have both been through the mill. When you know you didn’t do it, you feel you’re in a hole you can’t get out of. People can be evil enough to tell a lie about an innocent person.” The adage “No smoke without fire” was a “stupid saying”, he said.
Both men said that the campaign was not only about themselves, but also the hundreds of others going through what Mr Gambaccini described as “torment”. When questioned whether the change could hinder other genuine victims coming forward, Sir Cliff said that they wanted a “compromise” that would help “readjust the balance”, which he claimed was currently stacked against the accused.
Sir Cliff is one of several well-known figures backing the campaign group Falsely Accused Individuals for Reform (FAIR). The group’s parliamentary petition, which calls for anonymity for those suspected of sexual offences until they are charged, had reached 10,000 signatures earlier this week.
The national spokeswoman for Rape Crisis England and Wales, Katie Russell, said, however, that giving suspects of sexual offences different treatment to suspects of other offences would “inevitably reinforce the public misconception . . . that those suspected of sexual offences are more likely to have been falsely accused”.
Among those who support the principle of anonymity before charges are brought is Sister Frances Dominica ASSP, who, in 2014, was forced out of involvement with two children’s hospices she had founded 30 years earlier, because of unsubstantiated historic abuse allegations (News, 20 July 2015).
It took police and the Crown Prosecution Service 18 months to decide that she had no case to answer, during which time she agreed to stay away from the hospices Helen House and Douglas House, in Oxford. But, 18 months after she was cleared, she was asked to step down as a trustee.
Speaking to the Church Times, she said that it was her mission to campaign on behalf of those facing allegations without a forum in which to clear their name. “I know that it is hard to accept that your name will never be cleared,” she said. “I’m glad it didn’t have to go to trial — but there’s a penalty to pay for that, in that nothing is ever proven.
“And there is a culture which makes those people who have had allegations levelled against them feel that they are guilty until proved innocent, which is absolutely contrary to accepted practice in this country.”