By Flora Thompson, PA Home Affairs Correspondent
Sir Cliff Richard has told how he thought he was “going to die of a heart attack” after he faced child sexual assault allegations.
The singer, who denied the claims and was never arrested or charged, said being falsely accused could “completely destroy you” as he urged people to back the campaign to change the law so suspects have anonymity unless they are charged.
Speaking in the UK House of Lords on Wednesday, he branded the internet a “disaster area for most people now”, claiming his name will “forever” be on the dark web “as the man accused of the dastardly deed”, adding: “You can’t trust anybody anymore.”
Being falsely accused could “completely destroy you”, he said, adding that at points he would awake with his pulses racing and feared he was “going to die of a heart attack”.
“I can’t express it strongly enough to know what it’s like to be an innocent man and also know that the person that accused you has anonymity in perpetuity.
“I’m past that terrible time, but will I ever get over it? The answer is no,” he added.
DJ Paul Gambaccini – who was arrested over assault claims in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal and spent a year on bail before the case was dropped – said he believed the UK was the “most humane country in the world until the events of the last decade proved otherwise”.
Since then he and Mr Richard had become “a magnet for people who either are being wronged, or who feel they are being wronged or claim they are being wronged by false accusation”, Mr Gambaccini said.
He later told the PA news agency that he and Mr Richard got shingles because the stress of the ordeal.
Former Tory MP Harvey Proctor, who spent more than a year facing accusations that he was a child murderer and rapist before he was finally cleared from the Metropolitan Police’s bungled Operation Midland, became visibly emotional as he told the meeting: “The effect of such adverse publicity and police malpractice cannot be underestimated. I lost just less than everything: my job, my home, my reputation, and my personal safety”.
The latter “continues to affect me to this day – over seven years later” because he has recently received death threats, he added.
Supporters of the pressure group Falsely Accused Individuals for Reform (Fair), which is campaigning to change legislation, who attended the meeting included Liam Allan. As a 22-year-old student, he had charges of rape and sexual assault against him dropped when critical material emerged as he stood trial.
Fellow campaigner Lady Lavinia Nourse, the widow of the late Court of Appeal judge Sir Martin Nourse, broke down in tears in the press conference as she recalled the aftermath of being cleared of historic sex abuse charges.
While media personality and author Christine Hamilton voiced her support for the campaign, telling the audience: “I’m one of the few women who has been accused of rape along with my husband in 2001. So I’ve been there and I know what it’s like.
“We all want the same outcome, we all want that no rapist goes unpunished … But we equally all want not a single innocent man to go through the hell that some in this room have been in … The question is how do we get there?”
She said the proposed laws were necessary because some would rather have 50 or 100 innocent men “done down” than one rapist let off, adding: “If the odd rapist gets off, to me that is the price worth paying to save the lives of so many innocent men.”
When asked whether there was any UK government backing for the proposals, the audience were told they would likely face opposition in the Commons and that neither Boris Johnson nor Priti Patel, in previous cabinet roles, had been forthcoming with support.
The panel indicated, if a peer was willing to put forward the plans, that perhaps an amendment to an existing crime bill in the Lords or introducing the matter through a private member’s bill would be the most successful option for the next step.
The group launched a petition in July 2019 making their case for changes to the law.
A month later then-justice secretary Robert Buckland came under fire for saying there should be anonymity for suspects if they have a reputation to protect – forcing officials to insist this was not government policy.
Later that year, a report by Sir Richard Henriques on how the Metropolitan Police handled Operation Midland recommended suspects should have their anonymity protected by law and victims should be asked to sign confidentiality agreements in cases involving “prominent people”.
But the force rejected such suggestions and campaigners warned this could have a chilling effect on victims coming forward.