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Anger at coalition plans for rape defendants' anonymity

Campaigners lashed out at the Government today after it pledged to ban the identification of men accused of rape.

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition said it would extend anonymity in rape cases from victims to include defendants.

Officials said details of the change were yet to be decided but it is likely the ban will be lifted once a suspect is convicted.

The move will turn the clock back to the 1970s when the Sexual Offences Act introduced anonymity for those accused of rape, something later repealed.

But it stands in the face of a report by Lady Stern that recommended independent research should first be done into the scale and nature of false rape allegations.

Ruth Hall, of Women Against Rape, said the decision was an "insult" and a backlash against the rising number of rape reports.

She said: "More attention needs to be paid to the 94% of reported cases that do not end in conviction rather than the few that are false.

"If men accused of rape got special rights to anonymity, it would reinforce the misconception that lots of women who report rape are lying.

"False rape allegations are extremely rare, but receive disproportionate publicity.

"Of course, being wrongly accused is a terrible ordeal but the same can be said of being wrongly accused of murder, theft, fraud or any other serious offence.

"We are against a special case where men accused of rape are singled out for special protection."

Rape law campaigner Jill Saward said she is "horrified" by the news and accused politicians of turning their backs on victims of sexual violence.

Ms Saward, who has spoken out on tackling rape since being attacked at her Ealing vicarage home in 1986, said she completely opposes anonymity for defendants.

She said the changes may discourage genuine victims from coming forward and "send a damaging message".

Ms Saward said: "In just a week or so, what we have heard from this coalition is that rape victims and victims of sexual violence do not matter."

In her review of rape and the criminal justice system published in March, Lady Stern said there is little information about the number of false allegations.

She said some reports suggested as many as one in 10 reports of rape could be false, but police and solicitors said they encountered cases extremely rarely.

Lady Stern said: "We make no recommendation on anonymity for defendants but note that it is often raised and the concerns will undoubtedly continue.

"A full examination of the issues would be helpful to the debate."

In 2003, the Home Affairs Committee recommended rape suspects are given anonymity until charged, something that effectively takes place now.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "This is a sensitive area and careful analysis of the options and implications will be undertaken."