Prosecutors should write to apologise to Paul Gambaccini after the veteran BBC broadcaster was placed on bail for a year following his arrest on suspicion of historical sexual abuse, a committee of MPs said today.
The Radio 2 and 4 presenter was told in October that no case would be brought against him, nearly a year after he was arrested and six months after police handed papers to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
In a report on pre-charge bail published today, the Home Affairs Select Committee said it was unacceptable that “people can be kept on bail for months on end and then suddenly be told that no further action will be taken against them without providing any information as to why”.
Chairman Keith Vaz said: “The CPS should write and apologise to Mr Gambaccini, explaining why the case took so long when the original police investigation was dropped for insufficient evidence a month before he was even arrested.”
Mr Gambaccini says he was the victim of a “witch-hunt” and claimed lost earnings and legal fees had cost him more than £200,000. The CPS said earlier this month that a decision in his case was made a month after all the evidence had been received from police last September. It said it received initial papers in February 2014 but “further investigation was necessary in order to properly consider the case”.
The Home Affairs Select committee also recommended that people suspected of sexual offences should have the same right to anonymity as the complainant until they are charged.
And it called for cases where suspects had been kept on police bail for three months without charge to be reviewed by the courts. Currently police can keep suspects on police bail for an unlimited period without charge.
West Yorkshire Police were revealed in 2013 to have more people on long-term police bail than nearly anywhere else in the country, and had 716 suspects on bail for more than 180 days at one point last summer.
A CPS spokesman said: “We do not accept that the CPS was sent a file of evidence on which to make a charging decision in February 2014. We received all the necessary material in September 2014 and made the decision not to prosecute Mr Gambaccini within one month. The apparent decision to drop and then re-open the investigation would have been taken by the police and is not therefore something the CPS would be able to explain. Furthermore, the CPS could not have restarted an investigation which the police had abandoned – that is not within its statutory power.
“We have already told the Committee that we are happy to write to Mr Gambaccini to set out a chronology of CPS actions and to explain our decision and we will be doing so in due course, but we are satisfied with the decision making in this case.”
Reacting to today’s report, Mr Gambaccini said a reform of the current bail law would make his experience worthwhile.
He said: “I hope and pray that the recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee will be implemented.
“If thousands of people do not have to endure what I experienced, my year will have been worth it. I am grateful for the attention and hard work of the committee.”
One of the report’s recommendations is that anyone kept on bail for longer than six months who is subsequently released without charge should be provided with a written explanation from the Crown Prosecution Service to explain its decision.
The committee has recommended a 28-day bail limit, with any decision to extend after that period subject to a challenge by a senior officer not involved in the investigation. It added that decisions to re-bail someone should be reviewed by the courts every three months.
But victims’ groups say naming suspects can encourage vulnerable witnesses to come forward, and have described the report’s findings as “disappointing”.
Police forces and prosecutors have previously said publicity around certain arrests - including those of shamed veteran presenters Stuart Hall and Rolf Harris - led to further victims coming forward.
Home Secretary Theresa May announced in December she was consulting on a 28-day bail limit in all but exceptional cases, saying that it “cannot be right that people can spend months or even years on pre-charge bail with no oversight”.
But the report’s findings have been criticised by those concerned about the impacts on victims.
Sarah Green, acting director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: “We are disappointed that the Home Affairs Select Committee is recommending anonymity for those accused of sexual offences.
“We oppose any making of special exceptions for those accused of sexual offences as to other offences. Rape is a known repeat offence, and the police may need the discretion to name a suspect for investigative purposes. Decision-making on this should of course be clear and transparent.”
Last year Sir Keir Starmer, the former director of public prosecutions who advised on the decision to charge television veteran Harris in August 2013, said the publicity of Harris’s arrest had been vital in encouraging victims to come forward.
He said: “It’s very difficult for victims of sexual abuse to come forward in ordinary circumstances. It’s particularly difficult where there is a celebrity involved because very often victims feel they simply are not going to be believed against someone such as Rolf Harris.
“It was exactly the same with Jimmy Savile - very few victims did come forward in that case. They felt they couldn’t take Jimmy Savile on, they wouldn’t be believed. That’s a critical part of this whole case.”