Celebrity 'witch-hunt' claim denied
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has denied conducting a "witch-hunt" against celebrities after broadcaster Paul Gambaccini told a parliamentary committee that he and other showbiz figures were used as human "fly paper" in the hope that their public identification as sex-abuse suspects would encourage more alleged victims to come forward.
Mr Gambaccini claimed individuals were being "left out to dry" by the authorities as he told the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee that police and prosecutors "sat on" his case for 12 months before telling him he would not be charged in relation to an allegation of historic sex abuse.
The radio presenter said that he had forfeited more than £200,000 in lost earnings and legal costs during his year on bail after his arrest in October 2013 when he was unable to work because of publicity surrounding the allegation, which he described as "completely fictitious".
He said he suspected his bail was repeatedly extended until the end of high-profile cases involving other showbiz figures because detectives working on Operation Yewtree - the police investigation into historic sex offences launched in the wake of the exposure of Jimmy Savile's crimes - did not want juries to hear that a former Radio 1 DJ had been cleared of sexual wrongdoing.
Mr Gambaccini said he "enthusiastically" backs proposals by Home Secretary Theresa May to limit police bail to 28 days in all but exceptional cases and believes that those accused of sexual offences should be granted anonymity until they are charged.
But DPP Alison Saunders - the most senior prosecutor in England and Wales - said the 28-day limit was "too short" because decisions on whether to press charges take substantially longer in a minority of cases, often involving fraud, corruption or historic sex offences.
Ms Saunders made clear she did not believe the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) owed Gambaccini an apology.
She insisted that the CPS does not release the names of suspects before charge and stressed that a decision not to press charges is not a determination of innocence or guilt, but a judgment on whether there is sufficient evidence to secure a conviction.
A CPS spokesman later said that prosecutors had been given initial material about the Gambaccini case by the Metropolitan Police in February 2014 but did not receive final evidence until September, and then reached its decision to take no further action in just one month.
Conservative MP Michael Ellis told the DPP that the bail system was "broken" and rebailing was being "used indiscriminately in some cases with no proper oversight", with police able to extend bail "arbitrarily because it suits them".
He cited the case of journalists arrested on suspicion of a wide range of offences in the wake of phone-hacking allegations, on which he said £33 million had been spent with few successful prosecutions to show for it.
Mr Ellis asked the DPP: "Are you conducting - you, the Crown Prosecution Service - a witch-hunt? It is being suggested by more and more people that a witch-hunt is being conducted against journalists and celebrities ... There are a lot of people on bail for prolonged periods whose reputations are sullied and names often disclosed and lives ruined while nothing happens. Is it because of the groundswell of attention in this area that you are pursing these cases with insufficient evidence?"
Ms Saunders denied the system was "broken" and told the committee: "We are not conducting a witch-hunt against anyone, be it journalists or celebrities."
Prosecutors had a statutory duty to consider cases passed to them by police, she said, adding: "We do not make any distinction when we look at cases as to who it is we are looking at. What we look at is the evidence."
It was "of no interest or value" for prosecutors to drag out investigations, but it would not be "appropriate" for decisions to be "made in haste", she said.
Asked directly whether the CPS should offer formal apologies when charges are not brought, she responded: "When we take no further action in cases ... we will tell the police and the police communicate that to the individual concerned, so it's a matter for the police service as to exactly what is said to the individual about why that decision has been made."
Mr Gambaccini told the committee he was arrested on October 29 2013 and police handed papers to the CPS on February 10, but it was October 10 2014 before he was told there would be no charge.
During that time, he said his bail was extended on seven occasions with only "vague" explanations from police, but he gradually realised that the dates often coincided with important developments in the Yewtree investigation - on the day of the sentencing of publicist Max Clifford on May 2, the conviction of Rolf Harris on June 30 and the court appearance of former Stoke Mandeville doctor Michael Salmon on September 12.
"Twice is a coincidence, three times is a trend," said Mr Gambaccini.
"It was kind of interesting when I was rebailed the same day Max Clifford was sentenced. It was kind of infuriating when I was rebailed the same day Rolf Harris was convicted. But then when I was rebailed again when Michael Salmon was charged, I thought 'Okay, what they are doing here is trying to bury the news of my being rebailed forever'."
When his bail was extended to September 15, he suspected a link to the trial of Dave Lee Travis, which was due to end on that date.
"I thought, 'This is the most obvious thing in the world. They are sitting on me until they are finished with Travis, because they don't want the Travis jury to know that a former Radio 1 DJ can be innocent'. I do believe - though I don't have any evidence for this - that they were just sitting on me until Travis was finished," he said.
Asked if he felt there had been a "concerted attempt" to link him with other unconnected cases, in the hope that publicity would prompt other alleged victims to come forward, Mr Gambaccini said: "Oh, of course. You are exposed, in the first place, so that other people will accuse you ... You can see the pattern in all the cases. You are exposed in the press. Stephen Fry called it the 'fly paper' tactic, where they put up a human being as a piece of fly paper and see what gets attracted to it."
Mr Gambaccini - who has returned to broadcasting on BBC radios 2 and 4 - said that he and other celebrities falsely accused of historical sex crimes had been the victim of a witch-hunt to divert attention from the failure of the authorities to deal with Savile while he was still alive.
"Someone whose identity we do not know, who I call the Wizard of Oz, the person sitting behind the curtain, pulling the levers, setting off smoke and light shows, decided 'I've got a great idea, let's have a witch-hunt, let's divert the attention of the public from the police who knew about but failed to stop Jimmy Savile in his lifetime and shine that spotlight instead on his contemporaries and we'll get perverts from show business in the 1970s and 1980s,'" he said.
"There's a design flaw in that. It assumes there were a lot of perverts in show business in the 1970s and 1980s.
"When you open a website and a phone line - as the police did - for the dedicated purpose of accusing celebrities, then you are going to get some people who are responding to the offer of money and attention."