Put yourself in the classy shoes of Sir Cliff Richard. Imagine how he felt on the 14th of August when the South Yorkshire Police ( SYP) raided his house while the BBC had a helicopter hovering above, filming the operation. The star had been accused of sexual abuse by four men and was being investigated. The assaults allegedly took place between 1958 and 1983. After twenty two months, he was told no charges would be brought. It didn’t have to be done in that way. Guarded Auntie had lost all sense, turned into a lurid, invasive tabloid outlet and SYP too should have behaved with some discretion. So I get it, the distress felt by the veteran pop star. And the broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, who spent twelve anxious months on bail before being told he would face no charges. Both men went to the House of Lords on Monday to lobby for a change in the current law. They want those accused of sexual abuse to be guaranteed anonymity until and unless they are charged. LibDem peer Lord Paddick, previously deputy assistant Met commissioner backs this change. It all sounds so reasonable.
But here’s the rub: if these famous and or powerful chaps get what they want, it will become unbelievably harder for the police and courts to nail abusers. As lawyer Richard Scorer, a specialist in this area, says: ‘We have seen countless times how perpetrators isolate their victims, make them feel no one will believe them’. Releasing names of alleged perpetrators gives courage to other victims. They then come forward. In May 2012, I received a letter from a nameless woman who claimed she had been groomed and raped by the entertainer Stuart Hall. He handed her a school prize, offered to mentor her, then repeatedly raped her over a long time. I took the anguished letter to the police and they began looking into the allegation. When news broke of this, other women came forward. Without similar, accumulated testimonies Hall’s lawyers would have got him off. He denied it all of course, said the accusations were ‘pernicious, callous, cruel and pernicious’. He was convicted and sent to prison, still arrogant and unrepentant. When I finally got to talk to the woman who wrote to me, she described her years of silent suffering when she blamed herself. She hadn’t even told her husband about what happened to her. Knowing he did it to others helped her get over that guilt.
Cliff Richard, national treasure, has suffered humiliation, trauma and depression. Victims feel all that and worse. Repression, inhibition, shame and pain lead to self destructive and destructive behaviours. Many are irreversibly damaged.
False allegations are rare. False allegations against the rich and famous rarer still, although their fury and sense of injustice thereafter is boundless. Even when there is a serious case to answer, in cases where a celeb stands accused, juries tend to doubt the accusers. A prosecution barrister described to me, the courtroom dynamics he has witnessed. The conversation was off the record : ‘Those elected to be on juries do often believe celebs are targeted by low life. They can be very sceptical particularly when the victims are female or from working class backgrounds. They mistrust lawyers too. So to get a conviction is hard. Victims accusing high profile men have a credibility problem not of their making. This is why so few of them dare’.
We should be far more concerned about the countless men and women who never dared to tell, who will never find closure nor heal. According to the NSPCC, ninety percent of children raped or molested know the perpetrator and around 3000 children needed protection from sexual abuse in 2014. Unknown are the numbers of those who do not come forward. These people matter more than celebs who were wrongly accused and never tried.
The law must not be changed. Anonymity will lead to fewer prosecutions because the case will depend on one person’s complaint. Stuart Hall, Max Clifford and Rolf Harris ( all contemptuous of their victims) would have had their comeuppance if their identities had been protected. Sir Cliff has come through the dark days. He should now think of them who never leave the darkness and step back from this vindictive campaign.
Edited Version I newspaper 19/10/16