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MP fury over 'concocted' rape claim

Tory MP Mark Pritchard has called for a review on anonymity in rape cases after a "vindictive and outrageous" allegation against him was dropped by Metropolitan Police due to insufficient evidence.

His calls have been backed by former rape-accused MP Nigel Evans - although David Cameron appeared to rule out the prospect of an overhaul, little over two years after proposals were thrown out.

Mr Pritchard described the "testing time" since he was arrested on December 2 due to a story "concocted" by his accuser.

The law currently states that people who allege they are victims of sexual offences - including rape - are entitled to life-long anonymity. There is no automatic ban on naming the suspects.

In a statement outside Westminster today, following the police decision that no further action would be taken against Mr Pritchard, the Wrekin MP called for a review of anonymity rules.

Mr Pritchard, 48, said: "To be falsely accused of anything is an awful thing.

"Of course (my accuser) remains anonymous.

"The law on anonymity does need to be reviewed and fairness does need to play a far greater role in these cases."

Mr Pritchard described the rape allegation ordeal as "a testing time", and thanked friends for their support.

He said: "Sadly, as an MP, sometimes you have a target on your back."

Anonymity was granted to rape suspects under the 1976 Sexual Offences Act, but was removed in 1988 after concerns from police.

The law on anonymity was reviewed by the Government in 2012 and proposals not to name suspects were thrown out after legal experts said it would have a detrimental impact on justice.

Asked whether Mr Cameron would back Mr Pritchard's call, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "The Government doesn't take that view. The Government's position is unchanged."

Mr Cameron told Heart FM Wales radio: "It's something we've looked at in the past, and there are some real issues with it.

"So I think it needs very careful thought before going down that road."

Sarah Green, of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: "Those who call for anonymity for those accused of sexual offences are often concerned about the impact on the reputation of those accused and feel this can be unfair.

"The problem here is not the lack of anonymity, which our open justice system very rarely grants to anyone accused of a crime. The problem lies with the sensationalised media reporting and comment around sexual offences and the failure to uphold the presumption of innocence.

"It is essential that we continue to allow the names of those accused of sexual offences to be known in order that other victims may also choose to come forward as has happened in the Jimmy Savile, Stuart Hall, Max Clifford and Ray Teret cases."

Mr Pritchard entered the Commons in 2005 after a career in marketing and has been a prominent figure on the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party.

He served as secretary of the powerful Tory 1922 committee for two years until 2012, and is a member of Parliament's joint national security strategy committee.

Before his arrest, Mr Pritchard was in the House taking part in a debate on the peace process in Colombia.

In September, Mr Pritchard, who is divorced, disclosed that he had been targeted by a journalist as part of the sting that led to Tory minister Brooks Newmark resigning over explicit selfies.

Fellow Tory MP Mr Evans, who was cleared of a string of sexual offences in April last year, said those accused of rape should be granted anonymity until they are charged with an offence.

Mr Evans, former Commons deputy speaker and Ribble Valley MP, wept in the dock after a jury at Preston Crown Court unanimously found him not guilty of nine sexual allegations, including one of rape, after a five-week trial.

He backed Mr Pritchard's calls for a review of the law on anonymity.

He said: "The person making the allegation gets anonymity for life - I don't want to change that - I appreciate it is to encourage victims to come forward.

"But it is enough knowing an allegation has been made. To have it done in full view of the public amplifies it by 100.

"I think the time has come to redress the balance to get anonymity for both alleged victim and the accused - at least until there is a charge.

"I believe if people consider what effect being accused might have on them, they might agree that there needs to be careful consideration of being named."

Mr Evans said he had spoken to the likes of presenter Paul Gambaccini and comedians Jim Davidson and Jimmy Tarbuck - all accused of sexual offences before police dropped investigations - and discussed the impact of the allegations on them.

He said: "(Anonymity) should not be a case only for famous people who are accused. Yes, we were splashed on the front pages of the national newspapers, but a rape suspect who is not well known may also find themselves on the front of their local newspaper.

"It is an ordeal for them, a traumatic one.

"Sadly, some people feel there is no smoke without fire, and that means they will always suspect someone accused of something even if police say there is no further action.

"But this (naming sexual assault suspects) is an experiment that has had its time."

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