A letter in yesterday’s paper:
Case for anonymity
In the interests of justice for innocent suspects, there are strong reasons for granting pre-charge anonymity to people accused of sexual offences, especially in cases of alleged historical child sexual abuse.
Suspects in such cases who are publicly named can be exposed to danger from vigilantes. My research has found that those wrongly accused of such crimes are seriously traumatised.
In these cases there is often a deficit of verifiable evidence and instead a reliance on statements. Those not charged are unable to prove their innocence: for the rest of their lives, some people will always be suspicious of them.
Furthermore, naming the accused for the purpose of gaining corroboration from other complainants exposes suspects to miscarriages of justice. Barriers removed for genuine victims make it easier for spurious claims to be made.
It is frequently argued that false allegations are rare. That depends on what is meant by false allegations. Those that are found to be malicious or fraudulent and lead to charges for perverting the course of justice are indeed rare. Those that are unintentionally false — the deluded fantasies of someone with mental health problems, say, or the result of adult reconstructed memories of events in childhood — may never be detected. [J4MB: The writer excludes the large category of allegations which are malicious or fraudulent, but don’t lead to charges.]
These are just some of the reasons that historical sexual offences present unique issues. Certainly, it would be unacceptable if pre-charge anonymity for suspects set the clock back when victims were afraid to report offences, but that seems highly unlikely now that the widespread occurrence of sexual offences is fully acknowledged in a justice system that is much more victim-centric.
Dr Ros Burnett, research associate, Centre for Criminology, Oxford University
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