The MP for The Wrekin in Shropshire has called for “greater fairness” in the law regarding anonymity in cases of rape. Mark Pritchard was arrested on 2nd December after voluntarily attending a police station on suspicion of rape, but the charges against him were dropped six weeks later on 6th January.
Police stated there was “insufficient evidence” to proceed with any charges against Mr Pritchard and that there would be no further investigation or action against him. News of Mr Pritchard’s arrest leaked into the public domain due to it being announced on publicly available daily order papers in the House of Commons. After allegations were dropped, Mr Pritchard made a statement to the press, describing the previous six weeks as a “testing time” and that he was “glad that it was over”.
The law currently grants lifelong anonymity to those who come forward to report to the police that they have been the victim of a sex crime, but this is not afforded to accused defendants. The coalition government originally floated plans in 2010 to extend anonymity to defendants as well, but dropped them after strong criticism from Labour and the public.
In the 1970’s the law was changed to grant anonymity to defendants, but this was then changed again a decade later. The high-profile nature of Mr Pritchard’s case has been accompanied by several other cases that have featured prominently in the media, such as the similarly dropped charges against the president of the Oxford Union Society, Ben Sullivan, and the release from prison of the convicted footballer Ched Evans.
A spokesperson for Rape Crisis England and Wales expressed their concerns, saying they had “grave concerns” over changes to the anonymity laws in rape cases, which they feared could “lead to fewer survivors coming forward”.
Despite the large amount of media attention received by cases such as Mr Pritchard’s, the Crown Prosecution Service published a study last year showing false allegations to constitute less than 1% of rape cases, a lower rate than other crimes.
When questioned about Mr Pritchard’s call for review, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, said “it’s something we’ve looked at in the past and there are some real issues with it. So I think it needs some very careful thought before going down that road.” A spokesman for No. 10 Downing Street later confirmed that the Prime Minister did not share Mr Pritchard’s view and that ‘the government’s position is unchanged.’