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Sir Cliff Richard tells MPs he fears he will be 'forever tainted'

Published 16/10/2016

Paul Gambaccini claimed police had carried out a
Paul Gambaccini claimed police had carried out a "witch hunt" after he was cleared of wrongdoing

Singer Sir Cliff Richard has told MPs and peers he fears he will be "forever tainted" after being wrongly accused of sex offences.

The performer, who is suing the BBC and South Yorkshire Police after a raid on his home was televised live, spoke at a private meeting on Monday as part of a campaign to guarantee anonymity for suspects accused of sex crimes.

He told an audience including Lord Lloyd-Webber: "The TV circus took away from me all hope of ever being what I had been before, a confident and respected artist, and an ambassador for Great Britain.

"Had I not been 'named' worldwide I feel I would still have been able to look people in the eye and not feel afraid that they might be thinking that there is 'no smoke without fire'.

Instead, I fear I will forever be tainted by the lurid and intrusive coverage I received.

"I have had to bring civil proceedings to obtain redress for these appalling invasions of my privacy by the police and the BBC. But that can never undo all the damage I have suffered. It would have been so much better never to have been in this position at all."

The 75-year-old told the meeting that he was grateful that his late sister Donna had lived long enough to hear that he had been cleared.

Sir Cliff was the subject of a long-running South Yorkshire Police investigation, which centred on accusations dating between 1958 and 1983 made by four men.

He was never arrested, and earlier this year prosecutors announced that no charges were to be brought as a result of the inquiry. Last month a review confirmed that the decision was correct.

The veteran performer told the gathering at the House of Lords: "There are no words in my vocabulary that adequately describe the emotional trauma that I suffered in consequence of the South Yorkshire Police's and the BBC's decision to disclose and publicise my name, and details of the police's investigation, in such a sensationalist manner.

"Only we who are innocent of any crime but who are named publicly before any charge has been brought, before even being arrested or interviewed by the police, will know the damage caused to our dignity, our standing, and our self-esteem. My name was traduced around the world in all the places where people know me. I believe that there were probably very few countries that did not hear of the ridiculous, appalling accusation made against me."

Sir Cliff added: "I have spent 75 years living as honourable and as honest a life as I can, but I am all too conscious that some of the mud will stick. I sincerely hope that I can play a part in ensuring that no-one else has to suffer in the same way that I have."

Broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, who was kept on police bail for 12 months after being arrested on suspicion of historical sex offences in 2013, before being told he would not be charged, also spoke at the event.

He and Sir Cliff left the House of Lords together in a cab shortly after 4.30pm without speaking to waiting journalists.

Security was enhanced in the corridor outside the House of Lords' committee room, with Black Rod, the officer responsible for maintaining order, joining doorkeepers and police to keep tabs as the stars arrived.

As the hour-long meeting broke up, Sir Cliff and Lord Lloyd-Webber hugged.

Lady Brittan, the widow of Lord Brittan, who was investigated as part of a doomed Scotland Yard inquiry into claims of a Westminster paedophile ring, also spoke at the meeting.

In March she was told that her late husband would have had no case to answer over the claims, and received an apology for the force's failure to tell Lord Brittan before he died that he would face no further action over a separate claim.

The calls for a change in the law are being led by former police officer Lord Paddick. The proposal to amend the Policing and Crime Bill would make it illegal for anyone to publicly name someone arrested on suspicion of a sex crime, unless they were charged.

Ahead of the meeting, the End Violence Against Women Coalition wrote an open letter to Sir Cliff, Mr Gambaccini and Nigel Evans, the former Commons' deputy speaker who was cleared by a jury of sex offence allegations in 2014, urging them to abandon the campaign.

Co-directors of the campaign, Sarah Green and Rachel Krys, said: "We want more discussion of rape and justice, not less.

"We want more openness and ever better practice by police and the courts in rape cases. We want the media to change the way it reports on rape.

"And in the long term, we don't want anonymity for defendants because we don't want it for those who allege rape either - because one day we will have eradicated the shame of being raped, and made this offence one which can be openly tested in court like all others."

Richard Scorer, a specialist abuse lawyer at Slater and Gordon, the firm which represented victims including those of Rolf Harris and Max Clifford, said many dangerous criminals are only in jail because of publicity surrounding their arrest.

Although police do not routinely name on arrest, with both Clifford and Harris, publicity after they were questioned led further victims to come forward.

Sir Cliff said in a separate written statement that seeing the raid on his home in August 2014 was "like watching my home being broken into - on television", and that he was not given the benefit of being presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The statement continued: "It is no exaggeration to say that on 14 August 2014, everything in my life changed. Unless this is something which a person has been through themselves, it is difficult to put into words the immediate physical reaction experienced, when in my case I learnt that my home was being raided by police officers, and that the BBC was on the scene with a helicopter filming overhead.

"The situation was made more distressing by the fact that I had to sit by and helplessly watch police officers go through my possessions. I just collapsed.

"The fact of the raid; the false insinuation that I was guilty, knowing that I was innocent; and of course the worldwide press coverage that followed the BBC's decision to cover the raid, caused me a long period of distress, humiliation, anxiety and illness. As you would expect, I had trouble carrying on with life as normal. The stress was physical and not just mental."

He said that during the 22-month investigation he suffered from bouts of depression.

"I felt as though I was in a hole and I had no means of escape. It was the first thing that I thought of in the morning, and the last at night. It takes a horrible toll on you. Some of this was, of course, down to the fact of being under investigation itself, but the fact that the investigation and my status as a suspect had all been made public, and in such an extreme and sensational way, made it all the worse."

The performer added: "If I can help bring about change, knowing that it will help others, even though I am all too aware that my own prior reputation will never be fully recovered (something I find devastating at this stage in my life), it will make everything that I've been through feel just a little bit more palatable."

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