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Sir Cliff Richard urges MPs to give suspects accused of sexual offences anonymity

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Sir Cliff Richard is to petition Parliament to make it a criminal offence to name suspects accused of sexual offences before they are charged.

The veteran pop star is demanding a controversial change in the law to make it a crime to publish the name of anyone arrested on suspicion of rape or sexual assault until they are charged.

Victims of alleged sex offences have the right to anonymity.

His campaign has already won the backing of a number of people wrongly accused of sex crimes including the DJ Paul Gambaccini and former Tory MP Harvey Proctor.

However, victims’ groups and lawyers reacted with outrage to the proposal, warning it will have a ‘chilling effect’ on rape prosecutions and freedom of speech.

They said it could hamper police investigations because victims and witnesses often come forward when arrests are publicised, as in the cases of Stuart Hall, Rolf Harris and Max Clifford.

Rape victims could also find themselves in the dock simply for alerting friends or family on social media that their attacker had been arrested.

Sir Cliff is due to launch the petition on behalf of the campaign group Fair (Falsely Accused Individuals for Reform), which states: ‘The law should grant anonymity to those accused of sexual offences unless and until they are charged. Publication of their names should be a criminal offence.’