Anonymity of sexual crime suspects during police investigation: Should suspects be named by the police before they are charged?

Emery Johnson Astills solicitors in Leicester discuss the anonymity of sexual crime suspects during police investigation following Sir Cliff Richard’s recent investigation.


Sir Cliff Richard has recently been in the news after the Crown Prosecution Service decided that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him for any historic sexual offences. When the Police raided Sir Cliff Richard’s home in 2014, the BBC covered the incident and aired footage on national television despite the fact that he had not been charged with any criminal offences. The BBC have recently apologised to Sir Cliff Richard stating as follows:


“The BBC is very sorry that Sir Cliff Richard, who has worked as a musician and performer for so many years with the organisation, has suffered distress. The BBC’s responsibility is to report fully stories that are in the public interest. Police investigations into prominent figures in public life are, of course, squarely in the public interest, which is why they have been reported by all news organisations in this country.”


Before an apology from the BBC, the South Yorkshire Police apologised to Sir Cliff Richard “wholeheartedly for the additional anxiety caused.”


Should the identity of those under investigation for sexual offences remain anonymous until the suspect is charged?


In the past, sexual crime suspects have had anonymity by virtue of the Sexual Offences Act 1976. However, this protection was later removed by the enactment of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. The current law states that suspects of sexual offences are not afforded anonymity whilst the police investigation is on going and can be named before they are charged. For one reason or another some complainants make false allegations and suspects are falsely accused. However, with the law as it is, suspects may be named but never charged with an offence and ultimately have to live with the stigma of being branded a sex offender.


The reason that the police are allowed to name sexual crime suspects is because it is thought necessary to encourage other witnesses to come forward. It is argued by some that many rapists are serial offenders and that they can only be convicted because they have been identified publicly. This is believed to allow multiple victims to come forward and corroborate each other’s account.


Sir Cliff Richard along with MP Nigel Evans and DJ Paul Gambaccini have joined forces to campaign for the anonymity of suspects that are under police investigation. Sir Cliff Richard has recently stated:


“Other than in exceptional cases, people who are facing allegations should never be named publicly until charged.”


If you are a suspect under police investigation for any type of crime and wish to discuss your matter with a legal expert, then you may wish to contact the Crime Team at Emery Johnson Astills solicitors in Leicester. Emery Johnson Astills would be more than happy to assist you, so please do not hesitate to contact us on 0116 2554855.