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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 July, 2003, 15:54 GMT 16:54 UK
Anonymity issue should be debated
John Leslie maintained his innocence
Parliament should examine whether sex charge defendants should be given anonymity, according to the most senior judge in England and Wales.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, refused to comment on the John Leslie case, but he said there was a "fine balance" on the question of whether people accused of sexual offences should be exposed to publicity.

"The situation has got to be kept under continual review. It's a very fine balance," he said.

"Where the balance should be, would be helped by being clarified by Parliament."

Jason McCue, a member of Mr Leslie's legal team, called for anonymity to be reintroduced for suspects.

'Trial by media'

He said it was "outrageous" that Mr Leslie had been forced to live through "this nightmare" while the woman who accused him had anonymity.

Lord Woolf said it was wrong to have trial by media.

"It is the court's job to try people," he added.

Matthew Kelly and other celebrities have also faced unsubstantiated sexual allegations recently - reigniting the debate over the extensive media coverage some cases get long before any trial.

The Home Office says there are no plans to change the law at present.

But it says talks with police and newspaper editors are "ongoing" to see what can be done to strengthen guidelines on reporting the names of people being investigated for an offence, but where no charge has been brought.

Former shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe argued there should be a "level playing field" for both defendants and complainants.

'Enormous damage'

"It may be true that if the defendant is named people will then come forward who may otherwise have kept quiet," she told BBC News.

"But it is also true that if you have a woman who has a history of making allegations unless she is named that is not going to come out."

Former Conservative MP Neil Hamilton, who with his wife Christine was falsely accused of raping a woman, said he was delighted the charges against John Leslie had been dropped, but criticised the CPS for pursuing the case.

"I'm absolutely delighted on the one hand, but appalled that this case got so far on such flimsy evidence. This has caused enormous damage to an innocent man."

Mr Hamilton said it was time for the law to be changed so that anonymity was extended to those accused of committing a sexual offence.

People who think he is still guilty should be ashamed of themselves
Neil Hamilton
"Anonymity is required to protect the victims of people's allegations just as it is for the people who make them."

He said John Leslie would now find it difficult to shake off the allegations - despite having the charges dropped.

"People will say there's no smoke without fire. You can never 100% disprove the allegation if it's one word against another. In our case we could break down the allegations bit by bit and prove it wasn't true.

"But people who think he is still guilty should be ashamed of themselves."

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said the case showed urgent action was needed to stop such accusations appearing in the media.

"Given the relentless media interest in sex cases, it is surely time to look again at the question of anonymity," he said.

"From the moment someone is suspected of committing a sex offence until they are charged, there should be no publicity which could identify them.

"After charges are laid, the presumption should be in favour of disclosing the defendant's name.

"However, an application could be made to the court to extend anonymity if it was in the public interest to do so."




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