Sex crime suspects 'should stay anonymous until charged'

Police investigation of pop star Cliff Richard shows how leaks can irreparably damage those who may be innocent

Anonymous man

Suspected sexual offenders should remain anonymous until charged, ending the "flypaper" practice of naming suspects to attract more allegations, a group of MPs has said.

A Home Affairs Committee report, published today, said that suspects in sexual offence cases should only be identified publicly if it is essential for policing reasons, such as public safety.

In these cases, identification should be done formally, with zero tolerance on police leaking information about suspects in an informal, unattributed way, it said.

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The MPs want the law prohibiting newspapers and media from naming sexual offence victims extended to include suspects before they are charged.

They used the media coverage of a search of Sir Cliff Richard's home as an example of the impact that one unattributed leak can have, pointing to one of its previous reports, published in October, which said Sir Cliff had "suffered enormous, irreparable damage to his reputation" despite the fact that he was neither arrested nor charged with any offence.

"It is in the interests of the police, post Leveson, to demonstrate that they understand the level of public distrust that has built up over the informal relationship between the police and the media," said the report.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee, said it was "inexcusable" that information about suspects was released to the media in an unattributed way.

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

The report also denounced the police tactic of repeatedly arresting and bailing suspects to draw more witnesses.

Radio presenter Paul Gambaccini has previously spoken of his "year from hell" when he was put on police bail for what he said was longer than necessary while police investigated accusations of historical sex offences.

Vaz said: "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."

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