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MPs backing sex arrest anonymity

People arrested for sex offences should have the right to remain anonymous until they are charged, MPs have said.

Suspects should be named only in a formal way by police if necessary, the Home Affairs Select Committee said, as it called for a "zero tolerance approach" to information being leaked by officers.

The Committee has recommended a 28-day bail limit, with any decision to extend after that period subject to a challenge by a senior officer not involved in the investigation.

It added that decisions to re-bail someone should be reviewed by the courts every three months.

In its report the committee cited the case of broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, who was kept on police bail for 12 months before being told he would not be charged in relation to an allegation of historic sex abuse.

The former Radio 1 DJ, who now presents on BBC Radios 2 and 4, told the committee earlier this month that he had forfeited more than £200,000 in lost earnings and legal costs during his year on bail as he had been unable to continue working due to publicity surrounding the allegation.

Reacting to today's report Mr Gambaccini said a reform of the current bail law would make his experience worthwhile.

He said: "I hope and pray that the recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee will be implemented.

"If thousands of people do not have to endure what I experienced, my year will have been worth it. I am grateful for the attention and hard work of the committee."

One of the report's recommendations is that anyone kept on bail for longer than six months who is subsequently released without charge should be provided with a written explanation from the Crown Prosecution Service to explain its decision.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz, who said Mr Gambaccini should receive a written apology, described the proposed reform as "long overdue".

He said: "The police only need to have reasonable suspicion that an offence has taken place to arrest someone.

"It is unacceptable that, even with little evidence, people can be kept on bail for months on end and then suddenly be told that no further action will be taken against them without providing any information as to why."

Mr Vaz accused police over the "inexcusable" leaking of details of famous suspects, saying Mr Gambaccini had been "left in limbo" during his time on bail.

He said: "Suspects deserve to remain anonymous until charge.

"Police use of the 'flypaper' practice of arresting someone, leaking the details, then endlessly re-bailing them in the vague hope that other people come forward is unacceptable and must come to an immediate end.

"It is inexcusably that information about suspects is released to the media in an informal, unattributed way.

"We have seen how destructive this can be to a person's livelihood, causing irreparable reputational damage and enormous financial burden. The police must advocate zero tolerance on leaking names of suspects to the press before charge."

Home Secretary Theresa May announced in December she was consulting on a 28-day bail limit in all but exceptional cases, saying that it "cannot be right that people can spend months or even years on pre-charge bail with no oversight".

Jill Saward, who waived her right to anonymity after being raped in order to campaign for other victims, told BBC Radio 4's Today: "What this committee are suggesting is really insulting to victims and a really disappointing move."

Ms Saward said that making a special case for sex crime suspects to allow their names to be kept secret "implies that victims are lying". And she warned that it would stop victims of multiple rapists from coming forward to back up other women's allegations.

"We know that many people who are rapists are multiple rapists," she said. "They don't do this as a one-off and part of their modus operandi is to try to make sure the victim remains silent. They try to make the victim stay silent so that when one victim comes forward often there isn't enough evidence there. You need the evidence of other people.

"To say that only when there's a strong enough case for it to go ahead can that person publicly be named is often too late."

Under anonymity rules in place at the time of her case - which became known as the Ealing Vicarage rape - in 1986, Ms Saward herself was not allowed to know the name of her rapist until the day of the court hearing. She said that the shock of learning the name in the courthouse distracted her from concentrating on the evidence she had to give.


From Belfast Telegraph