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Last Updated: Friday, 16 May, 2003, 13:43 GMT 14:43 UK
Limited anonymity on the horizon

Peter Gould
BBC News Online correspondent

In future, celebrities accused of sex crimes may not see their names in the headlines, unless they actually face charges.

MPs are considering whether to press for a change in the law that would grant limited anonymity to anyone accused of a sexual offence.

Neil and Christine Hamilton
Christine and Neil Hamilton were accused of rape
If adopted, it would mean the media could only publish the name of the accused person if the allegation was taken sufficiently seriously for a prosecution to be started.

The government, which is in the process of reviewing the law on sexual offences, has indicated that it will consider any such recommendation by MPs.

A change in the law would affect anyone - famous or not - who found themselves under investigation for this category of crime.

But it is the impact of publicity on people in the public eye that has focused attention on the issue of anonymity in sex cases.

Unsubstantiated allegations, particularly those of a sexual nature, often attract extensive coverage in the tabloid press.

Unwanted publicity

Neil and Christine Hamilton found themselves in the spotlight after Nadine Milroy-Sloan claimed the couple had been involved in an alleged rape.

No evidence was ever found to support the accusation, and no charges were brought against them. But they had to endure the indignity of a police investigation and all the attendant publicity.

When the allegations hit the papers two years ago, a friend of the couple, Lord Harris of High Cross, told the BBC: "This episode shows the appalling consequences of naming and shaming without any scintilla of evidence."

Ms Milroy-Sloan eventually went on trial accused of perverting the course of justice. She was accused of being a "sexual fantasist" who had made up the story in an effort to find fame and make money.

She was found guilty of two counts of perverting the course of justice.

Public ordeal

Another star who found himself the centre of unwanted attention recently was TV presenter Matthew Kelly.

He was questioned by police over an allegation that he had sexually abused a young boy in the 1970s.
Matthew Kelly
Matthew Kelly complained of press coverage during his arrest

Again, there was no evidence to support the accusation. Mr Kelly emerged with his reputation intact, but not before he had endured a very public ordeal.

Speaking outside the police station where he was questioned, he told reporters he had always been confident he would be cleared.

But he added: "It has been a very anxious and upsetting time for me and my family, not least because of press coverage at the time of my arrest."

It is not only celebrities who could find themselves under public scrutiny.

The chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, Labour MP Chris Mullin, believes that a limited form of privacy would help to protect the reputation of people like teachers and the staff of children's homes.

As the law stands at present, they can find themselves identified in connection with unproven cases of child abuse dating back many years.


The question of anonymity in criminal proceedings has long been the subject of controversy.

In 1976, under a previous Labour administration, legislation was introduced to protect the identity of a victim in a rape case.

The move was welcomed as a way of encouraging more women to report such crimes, and give evidence in court.

But it also became an offence to name the person accused of the crime, unless they were found guilty. In the mid-1980s, however, a Conservative government ended this right of anonymity for the accused rapist.

Labour peer Lord Corbett, who prepared the original legislation for Parliament, believes that it is time to restore the right of anonymity in such cases.

"I really do not think justice depends on allowing newspapers to crawl all over the evidence before it goes to a jury," he told the BBC.

In the case of Mr and Mrs Hamilton, there was no prosecution and no trial because there was no evidence against them.

Equal protection

In 1976, it was argued that it was only fair to provide equal protection for the rape victim and the alleged attacker, as an acquittal could still be damaging for a man's reputation.

But many police officers who investigate such crimes see strong reasons for not granting anonymity to defendants.

By allowing the name of an accused person to be published, they argue, there is a chance that members of the public may come forward with new evidence.

That could be important in the case of a serial rapist, where detectives are trying to trace previous victims.

It seems very unlikely that the government would provide anonymity for defendants who appear in court charged with serious sexual offences.

But recent high-profile cases may persuade ministers to accept a compromise that would provide some protection for those falsely accused.

Profile: Neil Hamilton
10 Aug 01  |  Politics
Should sex accused get anonymity?
03 Jul 02  |  UK News
Kelly's fight back to fame
24 Feb 03  |  Entertainment
TV star denies sex allegation
24 Jan 03  |  UK News

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