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UK Politics

Anger in Commons at rape suspect anonymity plans

The Government has provoked an all-party revolt by pressing ahead with a controversial plan to grant anonymity to people accused of rape before they are charged.

Despite growing criticism that the move would deter women from reporting rapes, Crispin Blunt, the Justice minister, told the Commons: "The Government is minded to strengthen anonymity up to the point of charge." He said the proposal struck the "right balance" but promised further consultations before coming forward with concrete proposals.

The Tory MP and author Louise Bagshawe said there were concerns on all sides of the Commons that by "singling out rape in this way ministers are sending a negative signal about women and those who accuse men of rape". Maria Eagle, a Labour justice spokeswoman, warned that by singling out one offence, ministers were in "danger of sending a clear signal to victims: you will not be believed". The Labour MP Stella Creasy said the Government had stirred up a "hornet's nest", adding: "This proposal would give credence, without any evidentiary foundation, to the idea that lying is an aspect of this crime and not any others."

The Tory MP Aidan Burley said he failed to understand the opposition to what he called a simple reform. "Let's not beat about the bush here. A false allegation of rape can ruin a man's life," he said. "Even if he is tried in a court of law and found not guilty he will still remain a suspect in many people's eyes. Human nature is to say there is no smoke without fire, especially, it would seem, when it comes to the thorny issue of rape."

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrats' deputy leader, admitted the idea originated from his party, which called for anonymity until conviction under a package of reforms on rape cases. But he conceded it was not included in the Tory or Liberal Democrat election manifesto. Mr Hughes hinted that the proposal might be watered down if there was no consensus for it. "There is a strong case for changing the law, in my view, but it's not a cut-and-dried case, an open-and-shut case," he said.