Child Abuse Suspect Loses Anonimity

20 July 2017, 07:29

Supreme Court

Privacy campaigners have expressed concern "innocent people'' may suffer following a Supreme Court 5-2 majority ruling that a man suspected of child sex abuse - but never charged or convicted - can be named by the media.

Tariq Khuja, described as "a prominent figure in the Oxford area'', fought a long legal battle to keep his identity secret using human rights privacy laws.

He was arrested in March 2012 by Thames Valley Police about the same time as nine other men.

Seven were subsequently convicted at the Old Bailey in 2013 of rape and conspiracy to rape children, trafficking and child prostitution.

Mr Khuja, who had to surrender his passport, was arrested after one of six young girls, aged 11-15, who made complaints said she had been abused by a man called Tariq.

He was released without charge after the girl failed to pick him out at an identity parade, though he was warned the case would be kept under review.

Mr Khuja applied for an injunction to prevent press and media covering the case in court identifying him after the girl gave evidence at the Old Bailey trial of the other men on sex grooming charges.

The High Court and Court of Appeal both rejected his application.

His identity remained cloaked by the initials PNM while he took his case to the Supreme Court for a final ruling.

The highest court in the land declared on Wednesday in its majority decision that he had no ``reasonable expectation of privacy''.

Five judges found the public interest in the full reporting of court proceedings raising interests of public importance outweighed Mr Khuja's right to private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The ruling was a victory for The Times and Newsquest, publishers of the Oxford Mail, and a journalist on each paper, Andrew Norfolk and Ben Wilkinson, who challenged Mr Khuja's right to anonymity.

But privacy campaigners and lawyers suggested that innocent individuals and their families could suffer as a result of the undermining of the principle of "innocent until proven guilty''.

Lord Sumption, giving the lead judgment, said the Old Bailey trial of the other men attracted considerable publicity in the national and local press and in the broadcast media.

He said it concerned "exceptionally serious charges involving organised child sex grooming and child prostitution over a period of eight years'' brought to court after a long-running police investigation known as Operation Bullfinch.

He said: "Public interest in it was accentuated and prolonged by the perception that the victims of the men convicted had not originally been taken seriously by the police or Oxfordshire social services, and had not received the protection to which they were entitled.

"The criticisms made of the police and social services inevitably reinforce the public interest in this particular case.

"PNM's identity is not a peripheral or irrelevant feature of this particular story.''

Lord Sumption's ruling was supported by Supreme Court president Lord Neuberger, as well as Lady Hale, Lord Clarke, Lord Sumption and Lord Reed,

The dissenting judges - Lord Kerr and Lord Wilson - referred to "increasing concern'' among judges and others about the effect upon innocent people of the fact that they had been arrested.

The two judges said there was no basis for presuming that people understood that persons not yet charged with an offence but simply arrested on suspicion "are innocent until their guilt has been established.''

The Supreme Court's majority decision was later described as an "extremely disappointing judgment for privacy campaigners and lawyers''.

Anna Rothwell, a solicitor at criminal law firm Corker Binning, said there was "a growing recognition that the identity of those suspected of crimes should not generally be released to the public before charge''.

Ms Rothwell went on: "Despite the fact that the court concludes there was a real risk that a member of the public may conclude PNM was guilty of sexual abuse - despite him never having been charged let along convicted - this was not enough to tip the scales in favour of protecting his identity.

"The collateral damage he and other innocent individuals, including family members, may suffer was not sufficient to outweigh the importance of open justice and the press's ability to act as the eyes and ears of the public in court.''