[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 18 September 2006, 20:15 GMT 21:15 UK
Lib Dems vote for rape anonymity
Neil and Christine Hamilton
Neil and Christine Hamilton were accused but the case collapsed
Alleged rapists would get anonymity unless they are convicted under plans approved by the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton.

Under current laws, only the victims of sex laws are shielded from publicity.

Supporters of the change argued that equal treatment would protect those wrongly accused from stigma or even threats of violence.

But opponents said the move went against Lib Dem views on openness and transparency in the justice system.

'Devastating'

Leading the anonymity calls, Ros Harper, from Newham, pointed to high profile sexual attack accusations involving former Tory minister Neil Hamilton and his wife Christine and TV presenter Matthew Kelly which were later dropped after days of headlines.

"I really believe in the premise, innocent until proven guilty," she said.

Ms Harper warned that allegations could have a "devastating effect on the accused".

Fellow Newham activist Geoff Payne said: "Let's not have trial by media. Let's not have trial by lynch mob."

Rape trauma

Cardiff activist Jacqui Gasson, 68, told delegates she had been raped 40 years ago on the steps of her London home and her attacker had never been caught.

"Despite yelling for help and there being plenty of people on the street above, nobody helped," said Mrs Gasson.

She backed the idea of anonymity, saying her husband had been wrongly accused of a separate attack.

Mrs Gasson also supported a call for more sexual assault referral centres.

"Most importantly we need someone to talk to ask the question, why me?

"The memories are still there. They are not going to go away.

"You feel dirty, you feel unclean and you need a haven not a police station."

'Illiberal'

Ann Morison, from Maidenhead, who has counselled rape victims, urged Lib Dems to "think very, very carefully about the glib arguments" given in favour of anonymity.

"It's illiberal, it's dangerous and it's not helpful," she argued.

The conference also voted for a national rape helpline to be set up.

The conviction rate for rape in Britain currently stands at around 5% - lower than anywhere else in Europe, the United States, Canada or Australia.

After the debate, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg said: "For all of its tough talk on crime, the government's record on rape convictions has been shameful.

"At the same time as the number of reported rapes is increasing, conviction levels are actually going down.

"These measures will mean that the victims of rape can be much more confident that their attackers will be caught and brought to justice."


RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific