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Sex suspects 'should not be named'

People accused of sex crimes should have their identities protected until they are convicted, a senior lawyer has said.

Under current legislation, people who complain they have been the victims of sexual offences automatically receive anonymity, but suspects do not.

Maura McGowan, chairwoman of the Bar Council, believes the law should be changed because allegations of a sexual nature "carry such a stigma".

"Until they they have been proven to have done something as awful as this - I think there is a strong argument in cases of this sort, because they carry such stigma with them, to maintain the defendant's anonymity, until he is convicted," she told BBC Radio 5.

"But once the defendant is convicted then of course everything should be open to scrutiny and to the public.

Ms McGowan conceded there were arguments on both sides, for the naming of a suspect and for keeping them anonymous until proven guilty.

She said that in the past, when people accused of sex crimes had been granted anonymity, there was a sense that it gave them too much protection.

"There is obviously a public interest in open justice," she said. "People would say that they are entitled to know not simply who's convicted but who's been accused."

Ms McGowan cited the case of Jimmy Savile as representing the benefit of suspects being named. "In a case like that, people would say, if one complainant comes forward against a person it might give other people who don't know her, but who went through the same experience the courage to come forward as well," she said.

Ms McGowan's stance was backed by Terry Harrison, who was falsely accused of rape five years ago and contemplated suicide because of the abuse he suffered after he was named in the media. He told the BBC: "If the person has done the crime as heinous as that (rape), then they should be named and shamed, I agree, but not until they've actually been done for it."


From Belfast Telegraph