Should the identity of sex crime suspects be kept secret before charges are laid? 73% of Lib Dem members say yes

Publish IdentityLib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Over 830 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

Following recent high-profile arrests as part of the Yewtree investigation, we asked whether anonymity should be extended to those arrested on suspicion of sexual assault but not charged…

Do you think the identity of people who have been arrested on suspicion of sexual assault, but have NOT yet been charged with any crime, should be kept secret or made public?

    73% – Identity should be kept secret
    17% – Identity should be made public
    10% – Don’t know

By an overwhelming margin, then, Lib Dem members favour keeping the identity of those arrested on suspicion of sexual assault secret. I don’t agree for reasons I set out here last year: I think transparency is the best guarantee of justice. Here’s a sample of what you think, though…

• Reluctantly I think they should be public as this sometimes prompts other people to come forward with evidence.
• Only until charging, then identities should be made public.
• Innocent until proven guilty is a fundamental human right.
• Too many false accusations. This is a very difficult crime to prosecute at the best of times.
• In an ideal world, anonymity would run both ways. We don’t live in an ideal world, we live in one where most victims of sexual assault never report it, and if they do, are disbelieved and undermined. Often it is only when the name of someone arrested is made public that other victims step forward.
• A mere allegation can destroy lives.
• Accused and defendants should be treated the same.
• Secret until charged is a good balance.
• An accusation can ruin a person’s life even if they are cleared of it. Mud sticks.
• Unfounded arrests have clearly ruined peoples lives.
• Irrespective of the nature of the offence, I do not believe the identity of any suspect should be disclosed ahead of charge, without the express consent of a senior judge.
• As they say, hard cases make bad law. We’ve come to the conclusion that sexual abuse victims should be given anonymity because there’s been a major issue getting them to come forward. We haven’t yet established that there’s a corresponding need to make a special case for those accused.
• The press complaints system *still* has no teeth so identity should remain a secret until charged for all crimes not just sexual assault.
• I wonder if secrecy might actually help conviction rates by leading juries to be less likely to think that alleged victims have jumped on some opportunistic bandwagon following publicity about a case, rather than being victims. At the same time, we must make it easier for victims to complain and be taken seriously.
• That should apply to all crimes.
• Some of the high-profile cases recently have started to look like witch-hunts, fair enough is they are guilty but if innocent the accused are having an injustice inflicted upon them.
• In fact names should only be published if there has been a conviction
• A very difficult question.
• I don’t think their identity must be kept secret, just not routinely disclosed to the press.
• Should not be disclosed, unless in the public interest
• I tend to err on the side of transparency – its a Liberal thing.

  • 1,500 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. 745 responded in full – and a further 87 in part – to the latest survey, which was conducted between 16th and 22nd April.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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    23 Comments

    • Given that there are a number of high profile Lib Dems, living and dead, currently accused of sex crimes of various seriousness, this response is interesting…

    • jedibeeftrix 14th Jun '14 - 2:44pm

      Yes.

    • Joshua Dixon 14th Jun '14 - 3:29pm

      73% of LDV respondents just made me a little bit sick in my mouth. Thanks guys x

    • A simple YES to keep secret as unlike any other crime it carries a Stigma and destroys those who are innocent

    • Carol Weaver (Dr) 14th Jun '14 - 4:34pm

      Trying to stop names being published has more to do with operations Fernbridge (Elm Guest House) and Pallial(North Wales) than Yew tree, no doubt. Very little to do with justice for victims. The Jimmy Saviles and the Cyril Smiths of this world are the ones that win out and it would seem that plenty are still alive.

    • London Liberal 14th Jun '14 - 4:53pm

      @Joshua Dixon
      It makes you “sick in your mouth” that Liberals are concerned about the rights of criminal defendants and want to stop ‘trials’ by the media/public opinion? Really?

      I’ve always assumed that it was a Conservative/New Labour instinct to chip away at due process and the rights of criminal (or terrorist!) suspects, and that it was a Liberal instinct to strengthen them. This result isn’t at all surprising given our overall stance on civil liberties.

      Saying it makes you ‘sick’ suggests a worrying level of contempt for what is a perfectly understandable liberal position. It’s also exactly the kind of knee-jerk judgmentalism that makes people believe this sort of thing is necessary.

    • Foregone Conclusion 14th Jun '14 - 10:59pm

      Love the idea that rape is unique in carrying a stigma. If I was accused of child murder or paedophilia, or terrorism, I’m pretty sure people would hate me just as much.

    • @George Potter
      “This willingness to give special protection to those accused of sexual assault is a textbook example of rape culture in action.”

      It’s not special protection to the accused – it’s the same protection to the accused as to the accuser. This debate only arises out of the fact that alleged victims of sexual assault are treated differently to alleged victims of other crimes. If one side of a court case is given extra protections but the other side is not, it looks unfair. Justice should be even-handed.

      And accusing people with a different opinion of participating in rape culture is hardly helpful. A valid argument could be made that treating rape victims differently is also “rape culture in action” since it just perpetuates the idea that being raped is something to be ashamed of. But I wouldn’t accuse anyone who supports victim anonymity of supporting rape culture ffs. It should be possible to have an insult-free discussion about this topic.

    • The reason special protection deserves to be afforded to the victim is that we live in a culture where many people feel that to be a victim of a sexual assault is more shameful than to be a perpetrator. Nobody is thought less of for being the victim of assault, robbery, arson, or fraud, but victims of sexual assault are often blamed and told that they are responsible for the crime.
      This special circumstance is why there should be special rules. If the culture treated sexual assault like any other crime it would probably not be necessary, but it is: laws must reflect the world we actually live in, no the one we’d wish to live in.
      As this circumstance hardly extends to the perpetrators (who are no different in this respect than accused criminals of other types, and, as has been pointed out, sometimes benefit from prejudiced views) there is no reason for protecting their identities. Equating perpetrator and victim is a false equivalence.

    • @London Liberal: that’s a weird response. Transparency is traditionally considered a key part of due process.

      I have some sympathy with the idea. I wonder whether there can be a middle ground found where the decision to publish the names of the accused (in general, I see no compelling reason to single out rape/sexual assault) could be made on a case-by-case basis. However, I can’t see how it could be made to work fairly and in a reliably unbiased fashion.

      There is no question that revealing the names of accused rapists has helped get more victims to come forward. With that in mind I cannot see how it can be right to support total secrecy.

    • IMO, it should apply to all serious crimes. In an ideal world suspicions and allegations would not cause lifelong problems for innocent people but sadly they often do. How many times do you hear people say of those not charged or not convicted of a crime “not guilty does not mean innocent.”? Mud does stick. Therefore having your name published in connection with serious crimes (particularly sexual crimes) is a form of punishment and injustice in itself. The default should be for people to remain anonymous until the evidence against them is at least strong enough for them to be charged. Only if there are compelling reasons in the overriding interests of justice should a judge be allowed to set anonymity aside earlier.

    • @john
      “How many times do you hear people say of those not charged or not convicted of a crime “not guilty does not mean innocent.”?”

      This. How many people still think Michael Le Vell is guilty of child rape, for instance? That’s something he has to live with for the rest of his life. Yes, a lot of people rallied round but it works the other way too.

      And this is true of sexual crimes in a way that it’s not for most other crimes because by the very nature of the crime it often comes down to one person’s word against another’s.

    • Having been the subject of an allegation and been “outed” in a national newspaper before ANY evidence was set in front of me and any due process I can tell you its has completely, utterly and totally ruined my life.
      I was never charged(as I was and am innocent) or prosecuted yet I was hung out to dry in the national media and still when you type in my name on any search site articles about the accusation are the first ones that appear.

      I almost lost my family, I lost my job, my dignity, reputation and still suffer now almost 18 months on through no fault of my own. I have no idea who my accuser was or is, no idea why I was implicated and no idea why someone would do this to me and my family.

      My life up to that pint was a normal one, I had in fact never been even stopped by the police in my entire life. After the day when officers came to my house with a warrant to search my house and arrest me my life and that of my family has been utterly ruined and continues to be.

      I am a liberal, always have been and all for transparency in legal proceedings. However I talk from direct experience of the utter humiliation and stigma that comes with a sexual assault charge, especially with a younger person. The total indignity of arrest and questioning and having it all published in a national paper and online is beyond catastrophic.
      Please tell me all those that support revealing my identity what did my children, my wide, my parents and other family do to deserve this?? and what did I do to deserve this??? The arresting officer agreed that this getting out in to the public arena was unfair and unhelpful at that stage as all they had and still is was a spurious accusation.
      The police did a VERY comprehensive investigation, all my various equipment was taken for analyses and so on and guess what after a few months they found exactly NOTHING!! I was released from bail, and told thats it case closed after investigation your story holds up seems like this was a huge waste of our time.

      I got no apology, no explanation, no nothing expect my life torn completely apart and even now rebuilding it as a FREE and INNOCENT man is proving almost impossible as some articles about the case remain on the internet as they are published outside the UK and unless I have hundreds of thousands of pounds I cant get them taken off.

      So please tell me now that I am clearly the victim of this disgusting and disgraceful lie what recompense do I have? You can blithely say oh well no charge just get on with your life , but I tell you its almost impossible to repair anything after that type of accusation….basically this person with one call or whatever has changed the course of my life forever, until the day I die some will point and whisper and say no smoke without fire.

      I would not wish this on my very worst enemy, its the most earth shattering experience ever….and even the arresting officer agreed the stigma IS worse than being accused of murder. I suggest those of you never to have gone through such a trauma step back and stop thinking in such pompous and flippant terms….this is not some student union debate. Lives are wrecked on both sides of the fence…the accuser is not always the victim and the accused not always guilty.

      I pray it never happens to any of you, but just think ,really stop and think what such an accusation that is then splattered all over papers and online would do to you….how would you really react? We all think we would just dismiss it and let justice take its course, but trust me the reality is much less romantic, much less straight forward. An accusation like this if exposed before any charges are laid, let alone a person proved guilty is utterly life changing.
      Those who argue otherwise are in denial or to pretentious to accept that an accused person is INNOCENT UNTIL(and only until) PROVEF GUILTY! so while I am all for protecting victims(or alleged victims) we need something in place for accused people until a point where is is appropriate and necessary to make it public.

      I am glad none of you on here have gone through anything like this, but just think that myself and my family are victims in this instance and while my life lays completely wrecked my accuser goes on their way with no damage to them or their lives….how is that fair, how is that right, how is that liberal?

      If I could I would bring you to see my kids and wife and ask them about how fair this matter has been to them, when many of you are talking in such self righteous ways just think of the fallout to those utterly uninvolved and innocent and how they are now also scared for life by something they did not ever deserve.
      I always thought justice was always done in the end, but in my case it seems until my last breath I will never get back what I had, and all because as a perfectly innocent person I was wrongly accused of a crime that most in this country see as the very worst possible.

      I just hope some of you take this in and think sensibly, rationally and realise life & crime is rarely is ever black and white….and the way people are treated within the criminal justice system can be far from perfect for accuser or accused.

    • You can never design any system so that you can always get the guilty and release the innocent without anyone, however unfairly, attaching stigma to them: there is always a balancing act.

      At the moment with sex crimes the balance is very much against conviction, because by it’s nature it’s usually one person’s word against another and that cannot be enough to convict beyond reasonable doubt. In many cases it is only the similarities between different victims stories that produces a conviction, and that often requires one victim to know that another has come forward.

      Therefore, reluctantly because I recognise the devastating effect of false accusation, I couldn’t support something that made achieving convictions in these cases even harder.

    • peter tyzack 15th Jun '14 - 4:59pm

      I remember the police calling at my house because someone thought I vaguely resembled somebody on Crimewatch(I had a beard!), my then 3yr old son kept waking in the night worried that the police were going to take his daddy away. Due process can have unexpected consequences.
      Anyone accused of anything should be entitled to be anonymous; and victims should be confident that they can come forward without waiting for their perpetrator to be publicly accused of the same crime on another.

    • Shirley Campbell 16th Jun '14 - 1:23pm

      Steve Jones, as a Liberal who wholeheartedly believes in the maxim of innocent until proven guilty, I thank you for sharing your experience. It might be productive to ascertain just how many lives have been ruined by false accusations of sexual wrongdoings, and, no, I do not believe that the accusers should be granted anonymity whilst the accused should be exposed to public condemnation. I hope that you will eventually be able to rebuild your life. Best wishes.

    • Steve Jones 16th Jun '14 - 3:45pm

      Hi Shirley, thank you for your kind words. What people forget and what you touch on is the real issue, just how many lives of people who are not even the accused are ruined…many beyond repair….but such accusations which as in my case turn out completely false.

      The utter humiliation and desolation that I felt, having to tell my parents, my friends and colleagues will never leave me. Their reactions while all supportive don’t sum up the total shock they must have felt upon hearing this just ahead of a certain national newspaper printing it….even though all they had was an accusation and absolutely zero facts. With one article, just one that was then picked up and published online by others(with no further investigation done to see if it was true or in the public interest to re-print) my life and those around me has been changed forever….it can never be undone, it can never be forgotten and as I said I will take my last breath knowing my life could have been so different if not for that one small but life changing article based on nothing but mere lies and completely fabricated.

      No one, be it the police, social services , or various media has felt it right, proper or necessary to apologise to me or my family and all have left me with the lingering feeling that no matter what the evidence(or lack of) in front of them says I am guilty….as my solicitor told me “anyone is guilty in a coppers eyes when arrested, for them its guilty until proven innocent….and even then” and this seems to be how the public now feel about such accusations of this nature.
      It is for this reason with the mentality of the press, the police, CPS and many in the public that a mere accusation means you are guilty that I feel so strongly that any accused of any crime should be protected until charged or convicted.

      Please remember that the law states clearly you are innocent until proven guilty, and then and ONLY then are you no longer innocent. The argument of going public brings others to speaking out is not good enough, why should my life be further ruined “just in case” someone comes out the woodwork….what that is saying is that my life is worth scarifying and ruining on the off chance that one persons accusation leads to other people maybe/possibly/you never know/fingers crossed revealing themselves. Thats NOT what our criminal justice system is based on, thats basically going down the line as some in the police(and CPS) may prefer of guilty until proven innocent.

      We have seen countless lives ruined of public figures, some have got apologies but as Catherine points out its mud sticks even then. I have been publicly crucified and not ever had an apology, not that would make a blind bit of difference.

      What some have argued is that an accused rights, liberty and life is immediately worth less than the 60 seconds pre the accusation, before any evidence or due process for the sake of apparent “liberal values”….now that makes me not just a little sick in my mouth but totally and utterly sick….to make yourself seem like a “good liberal” you support my life being ruined so you can feel better….I implore all of you that think that to step back, think , digest what I have put on this page and then tell me is my life worth worth ruining pre any charge just so you can feel better about yourselves….not sure my children, wife and family would agree with you.

    • Shirley Campbell 16th Jun '14 - 5:32pm

      Please Steve, painful though this seems, please keep it going. You have been brave enough to share your experience on LDV and I should like to see Liberals, now known as Liberal Democrats, return to their roots and to promote the concept of individual human rights. You have clearly been wronged and no true “Liberal” would condone your treatment. Liberalism was built on the concept of individual human rights.

    • Tony Dawson 17th Jun '14 - 8:43am

      @terry

      ” unlike any other crime it carries a Stigma”

      I do not think you have ever met someone falsely-accused of a serious crime.

      Life is full of unfairnesses – and serious unfairnesses. Their distribution is sometimes quite random, which means (like serious road ‘accidents’, the damage from which is far more frequent and permanent) they occasionally pile up on the same person or family – and others are never tainted.

      Besides Steve Jones’ case (above), we should all remember the foul media treatment of Christopher Jeffries (on a murder charge) and, only this week, a lawyer has been found guilty of making false accusations of rape against her boyfriend to cover up for her lack of revision for her exams.

      http://www.westerndailypress.co.uk/Boyfriend-falsely-accused-living-terrible/story-21197909-detail/story.html

      And what about the bloke who was arrested over Maddie McCann?

      What I cannot understand, however, is the need for automatic naming of people who have been ‘arrested’ on ANY charge. Police should only do this where there is a clear forensic reason so to do (besides making the police feel good). And we should also remember, as anyone who has shared a drink with a criminal lawyer (sic!) can tell you, that our legal process is deliberately weighed to try to only find people guilty when the evidence is beyond reasonable doubt. This means that hundreds of people every year are rightly found ‘not guilty’ in our courts of serious crimes, including ‘sexual’ crimes, of which they would be clearly found responsible in a civil court on the ‘balance of probabilities’ or in which their ‘innocence’ has been declared because of a serious police or prosecution blunder.

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