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Sir Cliff Richard launches legal anonymity reform petition

Sir Cliff Richard speaks at an event in Westminster, London, to launch a campaign for a ban on naming sexual crime suspects unless they are charged. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday July 1, 2019. See PA story LEGAL Abuse. Photo credit should read: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

By Flora Thompson, PA Home Affairs Correspondent

Singer Sir Cliff Richard and DJ Paul Gambaccini have made calls to "redress the balance" in the legal system as they launched a petition so that those accused of sexual offences remain anonymous until charged.

Both men were falsely accused of historical sex offences and have joined forces with pressure group Falsely Accused Individuals for Reform (Fair) to campaign for changes in the law.

The petition attracted more than 5,000 signatures by the time it was officially launched in Westminster on Monday - and the number continues to rise.

If support for the petition tops 10,000 signatures, it will get a Government response, while 100,000 signatures will mean it is considered for debate in Parliament.

Speaking to reporters at the launch event in Victoria Tower Gardens, Sir Cliff said of himself and Mr Gambaccini: "We have both been through the mill.

"When you know you didn't do it, you feel you're in a hole you can't get you of.

"My reputation - it seemed to me at that stage - was absolutely in tatters."

He said he did not sleep properly for four years, came out in shingles all over his face and head, and felt like he had been "hung out to dry".

He said "no smoke without fire" was a "stupid saying", adding: "People can be evil enough to tell a lie about an innocent person."

Sir Cliff, 78, won his privacy case against the BBC over its coverage of a South Yorkshire Police raid on his home in Sunningdale, Berkshire, in August 2014, following a child sex assault allegation.

The veteran star denied the allegation.

He was never arrested, and in June 2016 prosecutors announced that he would face no charges. Sir Cliff said there were hundreds if not thousands of people who had been affected in the same way and had heard "heartbreaking stories" from people who had spent time in prison after being wrongly accused.

The press conference was temporarily hijacked by fans who shouted out messages of support as Sir Cliff spoke, applauding him at the end and accosting him for selfies.

The singer thanked the public for supporting him, adding: "My fans have more sense than I thought.

"Will I ever get over it? I can get past it, I am past it.

"I'm on tour now, I'm having the most wonderful time.

"But will I ever get over it?

"I didn't realise how much it had affected me.

"I won my case hands down but I felt no jubilation. It was a terrible, terrible time."

There would be "truly exceptional circumstances" in which a suspect would need to be named, he said, adding: "If someone is a known serial rapist or murderer and they are running free you have to be warned to stay away.

"The stigma of false allegation sticks and something needs to be done to redress the balance."

The petition declares anonymity is needed "to protect the reputations of all innocent suspects, whether well-known or not, from the lasting stigma of a false sexual allegation".

Fair was founded by Daniel Janner QC, who also launched the petition. His father, the late Lord Janner of Braunstone QC, faced allegations of child sex abuse.

The family of the former Labour peer have always maintained his innocence.

Mr Janner said the "important reform" would "end the injustice of naming innocent suspects" and the "atrocity of highly publicised searches where the accused becomes live bait, a target for fantasists and false claims".

He added: "This is a right reform, a just reform and it's a fair reform."

Mr Gambaccini was arrested in October 2013 over a claim that he sexually assaulted two teenage boys as part of Operation Yewtree, set up in the wake of the revelations about paedophile Jimmy Savile.

The 70-year-old, a regular fixture on the airwaves for decades, spent a year on bail before the case was dropped.

Gambaccini said he used to love the UK until he was "betrayed" by law enforcement agencies over "preposterous" allegations.

He said his family "did not deserve to be hit over the head with a sledge hammer" when they were drawn into the matter when contacted by the press over the allegations.

Gambaccini said he would spend "the rest of his life" seeking justice, adding: "People who have been going through the system continue to send us emails and letters.

"Please help us and please help me.

"Help me to love this country as much as I once did."

Former Tory MP Harvey Proctor had his home raided and was publicly named, and is also a supporter of the pressure group.

He was investigated as part of Scotland Yard's doomed sex abuse probe, Operation Midland, which centred on claims that boys were sexually abused by a number of public figures more than 30 years ago.

The investigation was abandoned amid widespread criticism, with the 72-year-old spending more than a year facing accusations that he was a child murderer and rapist, before he was finally cleared.

Pic by Jonathan Brady/PA Wire