False accusations made the case for anonymity
By Robert Verkaik, Legal Affairs Correspondent The Independent
12 January 2001
Rape: Allowing the accused to be identified taints their
reputations and, according to the Home Office, has not
led to an increase in convictions
Before 1976, a woman who accused a man in the public
eye of rape could expect to have her picture splashed
across the front pages of the newspapers.
The Wilson Government, increasingly angered by
tabloid excesses, put an end to this practice by
introducing laws which banned publication of the identity
of the victim and the alleged rapist. The Labour leaders
Harold Wilson, and later James Callaghan, believed if
victims of rape should be protected from identification
then so should the accused.
Twenty-four years later, Mick Hucknall, the lead singer
of the band Simply Red, found his picture splashed
across the tabloids after a woman wrongly accused him
of rape. His lawyers said he was under investigation for
just 24 hours before police dropped the case, yet the
press were free to identify him and cast slurs on him.
Anonymity for men in rape cases was removed in 1988
when the Conservatives bowed to police arguments that
it acted as a deterrent to reporting rape. In a trade-off
between the two front benches, a woman's right to
anonymity was extended from the time of charge to
when she first made the complaint, while the alleged
rapist lost the right not to be identified.
Twelve years later Home Office figures show that
removing an accused rapist's anonymity has not put
more men behind bars. In fact, rape convictions have
fallen from 24 per cent in 1985 to 9 per cent in 1997.
Recent false rape cases like those involving rock star
Mick Hucknall have helped to turn the argument around.
Both were investigated by police for claims of rape
which were dropped.
On the back of these cases, tabloid newspapers have
begun campaigns to push for a change in the law to stop
women making false allegations of rape.
Robin Corbett, the prime mover behind the 1976 Sexual
Offences (Amendment) Act which gave both rape
victims and suspects anonymity, has thrown his support
behind these campaigns. He said: "It is wholly wrong for
men accused of rape to be identified before they are
found guilty. Men charged with rape should not be
named unless convicted."
As the Director of Public Prosecutions has
acknowledged if there is an argument for banning
publication of accused rapists then there is one for doing
the same in child abuse cases.
In December, David Jones, the former Southampton
manager, was cleared of 14 charges of sexually and
physically abusing children. The judge, David Clarke,
told him: "You leave this court as you entered it – an
innocent man. I have no doubt there will be people who
may be tempted to think there is no smoke without fire.
I can do nothing about that except to say that attitude
would be entirely wrong. No wrongdoing has been
established. Many of the charges brought against you
have not been pursued." Many believe Mr Jones should
never have been named because his only crime was to
be in the "wrong place at the wrong time". Those
wrongly accused of sexual crimes can use the civil law
to compensate them for the harm done to their
Lynn Walker, aged 33, said her colleague, Martin
Garfoot, 46, a father of two, had raped her after work,
one Saturday four years ago. He sued her for libel. Last
year, a jury in Newcastle awarded Mr Garfoot
£400,000 in damages.
But womens' groups, such as Women Against Rape,
say more attention needs to be paid to the 90 per cent
of complaints which do not end in conviction rather than
the few which are false.
In 1998, Home Office research showed half of all
women reporting a rape knew their attacker, yet the
proportion of convictions has dropped. Last year, the
Home Office working party which reviewed all sex
offences rejected anonymity for accused rapists and
child abusers, and a new law of date rape.
Back To False Allegations
This Page was created on 27th January, 2001