In May 2010, the coalition government agreed to reintroduce anonymity for rape suspects following its removal in 1988. However the idea was dropped five months later as there was ‘insufficient reliable empirical evidence’. With the rise of ‘celebrity’ historical abuse allegations, is it time to reconsider?

A recent five week trial at Preston Crown Court cleared Mr Nigel Evans of all sex abuse charges against him; the most recent in a series of falsely accused celebrities. The former conservative MP and deputy speaker of the House of Commons faced allegations and charges of five counts of sexual assault, one count of attempted sexual assault, two counts of indecent assaults and one count of rape made by seven men.

The seven complainants alleged that Mr Evans had used his ‘political influence’ in order to take advantage of his victims.

The trial heard that Mr Evans had allegedly raped a 22 year old guest at a dinner party he held at his home in Pendleton, Lancashire, early last year. Mr Evans did not deny that the activity took place however he stated that it was consensual. He was also alleged to have committed indecent assault in public places on two men in their 20s in 2003. He supposedly approached them whilst drunk and put his hand down their trousers. The defence was that these were examples of “drunken over-familiarity” of which Mr Evans had no recollection.

The jury unanimously found Mr Evans not guilty of all the charges against him. Mr Evans cried as the verdicts were read out. He stated after the acquittal;

“This isn’t a time for celebration or euphoria….As William Roache said on this very spot, there are no winners in these cases, so no celebration…Nothing will ever be the same again.”

Mr Evans was also reported to have said that he had been put “through eleven months of hell”.

There were numerous messages of support from fellow MPs following the acquittal, some questioning why the charges were brought in the first place. Lancashire police stated that the force remains committed to investigating allegations, regardless of status of the offender and how long ago the offences occurred. They also confirmed that the evidence in this case had been scrutinised before the charges were brought against Mr Evans.

It does pose the question though, how many more high profile members of society’s names are going to be ‘dragged through the mud’ before anonymity is granted to defendants prior to conviction? There are many views on this subject and it remains, with the increase of celebrities being accused of sexual abuse, a very hot topic.

Those against the granting of anonymity to the accused often discuss the issue of victimising the victim further. There is often reference made to the difficulties faced by those who have built up the courage to come forward to bring such charges against someone. There is no question that the barriers currently faced by the victim are unsatisfactory, but it seems unjust that the accused must bear the burden of the flaws of the system.

In the wake of Mr Evans’ acquittal, Nick Freeman (solicitor) stated;

“The law must be changed so that people who are charged with these sorts of allegations, irrespective of their status, are afforded the same degree of protection as their accusers, until such time as they are convicted. There must be a level playing field!”

There are many supporters of defendants being granted anonymity unless they are convicted of this crime. The calls for the granting of anonymity cite that there is a specific stigma attached to sexual abuse crimes that doesn’t appear to attach to defendant’s of other serious crimes. The stigma often does not leave the accused, even after they have been acquitted.

Christine Hamilton, who was wrongly accused of rape by Nadine Milroy-Sloan in 2001 alongside her husband, Tory MP Neil Hamilton, commented on the acquittal of Michael Le Vell earlier this year. She confirmed that ‘he will never be able to throw off the nudge-nudge wink-winks’. Nick Freeman agreed with this and stated that people often read about these events and are left thinking that ‘there is no smoke without fire’. In the case of the Hamiltons, it turned out that Ms. Milroy-Sloan had in fact never met the Hamiltons and had created the story in order to make money. She was jailed for three years but the press coverage on her outcome was significantly less than the Hamiltons faced.

Jill Saward who was raped in 1986 (during the time when defendants had anonymity), has raised her concerns that if defendants were granted anonymity, it could reduce the chance of serial rapists being convicted and could potentially place a potential victim in danger if they did not know a person had been accused of rape. She cited the case of the ‘black-cab rapist’ John Worboys, convicted of serial rape in 2009, and stated that if he had been granted anonymity, other victims may not have come forward.

The difficulty with granting anonymity to the defendant is that in cases where an alleged serial rapist is suspected to have committed a number of offences against a number of victims who have not come forward, the victims will not be aware that the defendant is accused and facing trial until after their conviction. In response to this possible argument, Nick Freeman suggested that should anonymity be granted, a provision ought to be included which allows the prosecution to make an application to the Judge to waive the accused’s anonymity in cases whereby it is likely that, upon revealing the defendant’s identity, more victims will come forward.

Terry Harrison was falsely accused of rape five years ago by Shirley Prince, who was later jailed for three months after she admitted perverting the course of justice. In response to the increased discussions surrounding this area, he stated;

“innocent until proven guilty is a load of rubbish… I was guilty until proven innocent and even when I was proven innocent, I’m still getting judged. I ended up going to jail for something I didn’t do. I was in the paedophile wing, the rapists’ wing, the grass wing. I was there for three months before the DNA results finally came back negative. But the stigma is always there…”

The outcome of this debate remains to be seen and it is likely that discussions are set to continue for some considerable time.

If you are facing charges of rape, sexual abuse or indeed any serious crime, it is essential that you speak to an experienced criminal defence solicitor at the earliest opportunity. Our crime line operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – please call 01254 606050 for immediate access to legal advice from a criminal lawyer.