UK

Sir Cliff Richard joins anonymity campaign

Sir Cliff Richard outside the High Court after his court win Image copyright PA

Sir Cliff Richard has joined other public figures calling for the law to protect the anonymity of people suspected of sexual offences until they are actually charged with a crime.

The star won a high-profile legal fight against the BBC after it aired live shots of police searching his home.

He says he would never have been named as a subject of inquiry had the law protected him as an innocent party.

The group wants to meet the home secretary to set out their case.

Sir Cliff mounted a groundbreaking privacy case against the BBC last year over its coverage of the raid by South Yorkshire Police.

The investigation - launched after police received what turned out to be false allegations of sexual assault - was subsequently dropped and police never arrested or charged Sir Cliff.

The campaign group, called Falsely Accused Individuals for Reform (Fair), was launched by two other personalities who had been falsely accused of sexual offences and named in the media - the presenter Paul Gambaccini and former MP Harvey Proctor.

They argue it is time the law was changed to prevent innocent people being vilified in the media.

Sir Cliff has now announced he is joining them.

In a statement he said: "Being falsely accused myself and having that exposed in the media was the worst thing that has happened to me in my entire life.

"Even though untrue, the stigma is almost impossible to eradicate. Hence the importance of Fair's campaign to change the law to provide for anonymity before charge in sexual allegations and hence my continued work with Fair in the future.

"Had this proposed change in the law been enacted when the police decided to raid my apartment following the allegations of a fantasist, the BBC would not have been able to film this event, name me, and so plunge my life and those close to me into fear and misery."

Victims of sexual offences have automatic lifetime anonymity from being named in the media - but there is no bar on news organisations naming anyone who is under investigation for any type of offence.

There have been previous calls to prevent the media naming suspects before charge. The most recent debate came after a Sussex couple were arrested over last Christmas's Gatwick Airport drone disruption, named in the media, and then cleared of any wrongdoing.

The government has refused to back a proposal from the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Paddick for all suspects to be protected from being named before they are charged, saying it would infringe on freedom of speech.

But Daniel Janner QC, co-founder and secretary for Fair, said the campaign wanted to rebalance the scales of justice by focusing on a much narrower set of innocent individuals.

Mr Janner's father, the former Labour MP Lord Janner, was charged with 22 sexual offences dating back to the 1960s, but was found unfit to stand trial days before he died in 2015.

"We're trying to get balance because it's with sexual allegations that mud sticks in the most awful way," said Mr Janner.

"And that is why we want the Home Office to enact a small but significant change in the law. It is a privilege and honour that Sir Cliff has added his support."