Rape victim calls for tougher curbs on press

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JILL SAWARD, who was raped by intruders at a west London vicarage, said yesterday that the law should be strengthened to limit the invasion of privacy by the press.

Her evidence to the Commons Select Committee on National Heritage, which is investigating privacy and media invasion, confirmed the views of some MPs that more action is needed, in spite of appeals by editors against legislative controls.

Ms Saward described how she and her family were besieged in the vicarage by the press after the attack. She told the committee that the press had hired a room in a pub across the road from the vicarage and used long-range cameras to take photographs. 'The first thing the press wanted was to photograph me continually. They photographed anything that moved anywhere near the house. I had to leave the house covered by a blanket in a policewoman's car so that the press could not photograph me,' she said.

The law forbids the identification of rape victims, but she was offered large sums of money to sell her story exclusively to some newspapers. Ms Saward said the News of the World used a cartoon inaccurately depicting the attack, which she found 'totally offensive', and the Sun published a photograph of Ms Saward with her eyes blacked out, which she said was a 'major invasion' of her privacy.

Alan Howarth, the Tory MP for Stratford-on-Avon, asked: 'Do you think the press should be free to conduct themselves as they do, should they be controlled by self-regulation, or should they be controlled by a legislative regime?'

Ms Saward replied: 'I would prefer they were controlled by themselves if I trusted they would abide by those regulations.'

'Do you?'

'Not really, no,' she said.

Ms Saward said she would like to see new legislation to control the press but could not suggest how the law could be tightened. She said police rape counselling should include help for victims and their families in handling inquiries by the press.

Earlier, James Bishop, chairman of the Association of British Editors, said the coverage of the royal marriage was a matter of public interest. Mr Howarth questioned whether there could be a public interest in stories which had undermined the marriage and arguably the monarchy.

'What's been happening in the last six months was not started by the press. It was started by the book, which could only have been published by the fact that one of the parties involved gave information to the author of the book (Diana: Her True Story by Andrew Morton),' Mr Butler replied.

(Photograph omitted)