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 reputations.

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.

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This Page was created on 27th January, 2001