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The Oxford Union case shows why we need anonymity for men accused of rape

19 June 2014

8:58 AM

19 June 2014

8:58 AM

Earlier this year, Nigel Evans discussed in The Spectator how there’s no way to live down a rape allegation, true or not. Yesterday Ben Sullivan, the President of the Oxford Union, had the rape charges against him dropped. 

As I came into Parliament last Thursday, I swung by the newspaper stand  to take a brief look at the headlines. ‘Oxford Union president, 21, arrested on suspicion of rape and attempted rape,’ said one. My heart sank. A photo of the beaming Oxford Union president, Ben Sullivan, dominated the front page in his swanky dinner jacket. He looked as if he had the world before him — until, that is, the police knocked on his door, warrant in hand. ‘Are you Ben Sullivan?’ they would have asked. The long, lonely journey to the police station would have followed, leading him in the opposite direction to his ambitions.

I should know. A similar journey took me from my home to Preston police station in the early hours of 4 May last year. I could guess exactly what Ben was feeling. He was released without charge on police bail — but even if this goes no further, his name is now indelibly linked to rape. Anyone who searched online for him will find these lurid accusations immediately — but struggle to find out that he was released without charge.

There was another story in the papers recently, a ‘before and after’ photo of Freddie Starr. The comedian looked a broken man. He had been arrested four times by the Jimmy Savile squad, as part of so-called Operation Yewtree. It took two years for the Crown Prosecution Service to conclude that there was ‘insufficient evidence’ to warrant his prosecution. He was, in theory, free. But the whole affair had kept him in a virtual prison, the same one to which I was confined in the last year. He may have been given back his freedom, but the ordeal has cost him his health — as it cost me my career.


Some young men who are wrongly accused try to take on new identities and rebuild their lives. This is what happened to Peter Bacon, falsely accused of rape after a one-night stand. It took a jury just 45 minutes to acquit him. ‘A load of doors are closed to me because of this,’ he said, ‘even though I’ve done nothing wrong.’ He decided to change his name by deed poll and emigrate. A rather extreme reaction, but having been through the experience I can understand it. I spoke to the comedian Jim Davidson during my days under this hateful suspicion, and he told me, ‘I know where you are. Every time you are not doing something else you are thinking of this,’ and he was right. In the darker and most lonely moments, the mind turns to even more drastic measures.

The allegations against me surfaced over a bank holiday. A news vacuum rewarded me with eight minutes every half hour on Sky that Sunday. The newspapers diligently pored over as much fine detail as was available. One old university friend informed me that I even made page two of his Vietnamese daily. The only thing not given publicity was the name of those alleging criminal activity. Since 1976 the complainants have been given lifetime anonymity — which was intended to grant accusers the same anonymity given to the accused. That was, alas, repealed in 1988.

In theory, police do not name the individuals concerned. On the record, it’s always ‘a 72-year-old man’ who is arrested — but the press is given the nod, so that the public is in no doubt who’s in the dock. The likes of Freddie Starr, Jimmy Tarbuck and Matthew Kelly are thrown to the wolves, even if, as in all three of those cases, no prosecution is pursued. As with them, so with many other less famous men who are wrongly accused — yet, in this digital age, find themselves permanently linked to heinous crimes.

The solution is obvious: anonymity for those accused of rape, not just the accusers. This sensible plan was even in the original coalition agreement in 2010: the two parties agreed to ‘extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants’. But this was dropped (it later emerged that, in the heat of the negotiations, both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats believed it was the other’s idea). It hardly amounts to censorship: the law, as it stands now, virtually prohibits any robust discussion of cases once arrests have been made, even terrorist plots. This is observed even in the digital age. So why not extend this? It would stop people’s lives being ruined.

One answer is that having the accused’s name plastered all over the press will encourage victims to come forward. This happened in the case of the ‘black cab rapist’, John Worboys. After he was first arrested six years ago, several more women came forward to disclose that he had attacked them. I certainly see the benefit of this — there is a case for waiving anonymity when a suspect is charged. But not when they are arrested but released without charge, as the president of the Oxford Union has been.

Five years ago, the Labour government asked Baroness Stern to conduct a review into the treatment of rape complaints. The case for defendants’ anonymity, she said, needed further debate. A few months (and a new government) later and more debate was promised by Sir George Young, the Leader of the House. Lives were being wrecked by rape complaints, he said, and government would conduct a ‘sensitive analysis of the options and implications before we bring any proposals to Parliament’. No proposals came forward.

It is time, surely, to debate this properly. Several options can be investigated — from anonymity until charge to until trial or even until conviction. I am fully aware of the downsides to this, but I have tasted the bitterness of publicity and believe that it should be accorded an equal weight of recognition.

Nigel Evans is MP for Ribble Valley and a former Deputy Speaker in the Commons; in April he was tried on charges of sexual assault and acquitted.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 

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Show comments
  • DrTunville

    I fear that social media will soon overtake the law on this matter. If something is not done soon to address the injustice of the accused being named before a verdict is reached, I think we are going to see social media groups starting to name the accusers too.

    That would be a bad thing in my view. We need anonymity for the accused before this starts happening. Once the genie is out of the bottle it will be impossible to put it back in.

  • The_greyhound

    Here’s why women making accusations of rape shouldn’t enjoy anonymity

  • The_greyhound

    Time for an entirely fair system, instead of one that discriminates against men – this recent story highlights the problem very clearly

  • SuchindranathAiyer

    An Indian corollary: The changed one sided and draconian rape laws in India combined with media attention where the Police dodge registering a case (burk) leads to murder by hanging or otherwise. The fundamental problem is not rape but the general climate of lawlessness, corruption, juridical and police incompetence and criminal leadership that foments crime including rape.

  • bengeo

    No one has mentioned the reason for disclosure of an accused name.

    I understand the reason is to give witnesses of a crime, the chance to come forward with corroborating evidence.

    • Andy

      I did, but the post was canned. The CPS love to disclose the accused name for the reasons you mention. But the same logic applies in reverse. If you disclose the complainants name maybe witnesses would come forward to show she is a liar. If you release one name your should release the other. Level playing field and all that.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Don’t skimp on the bedside manner guys, because in feminised UK, if Madame wakes up with a bad case of buyers’ remorse in addition to a hangover, she has carte blanche to scream “Rape”. Ironic isn’t it with Muslim rape gangs targeting underage Brit chicks?
    Bottom line, Labour wanted more convictions for rape in Britain and the gutless Lib/Cons have gone along for the ride. So guys like Ben Sullivan are essentially collateral damage. The big picture is that a criminal record will seriously compromise your chances of being able to emigrate, so if you’re thinking of flying the UK coop, make it sooner rather than later.

    Jack, Japan Alps

  • the viceroy’s gin

    The writer of this blogpost is a morally degenerate swine, and the Speccie kids really should bear no truck with this cretin, and his self absorption.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Don’t sugar-coat it, gin. Work is the curse of the drinking classes.

  • si

    Allow that feeling sorry for this colossal bad person – There are NO details here of why/ how he has been acquitted. Aside from that it’s common knowledge that he’s stolen money from SU funds and he’s a massive bad person. It would make my minute (not worth much time) to see this bad person rejected for employment by his dream financial service institution. Also talk about censorship – can’t write anything here!

  • an ex-tory voter

    Devastating though it undoubtedly is, the public destruction of a man or woman’s character, career and on occasion their life, as a result of an “allegation” of having commited a sexual offence is only the tip of an iceberg. It is merely the most visible example of the effects of removal from our judicial system of the centuries old principles of freedom, liberty and the rights of the individual.

    The fact that this injustice can occur in a supposedly “free” society does at least serve to highlight the deep malaise which inhabits our judicial system and which already affects everyone one of us.

    Arrest and detention without supporting evidence, or just cause. Arrest and detention, sometimes extended detention, without subsequent charge. Secret arrest and detention. Secret trials. Arrest merely as a “vehicle” by which to “legitimise” fishing expeditions, particularly data fishing. The confiscation, or freezing of goods, property and assets without any requirement for prior judicial consent. Mass surveillance of the population’s movements and communications. The right of forced entry into private property by numerous public bodies. The removal of the right to silence, the removal of the ability to issue a writ of habeus corpus, the removal of the right to trial by jury, the removal from our legal system of the presumption of innocence. Extradition without supporting evidence of any crime having been committed. The near impossibility of obtaining any compensation for the harm inflicted by these attacks on the individual.

    The list goes on and it affects everyone. The only people not affected are those happy to allow the state to gather these powers safe in the misguided knowledge that “as they have nothing to hide” it will not affect them!!!

  • Angry Harry
  • Airey Belvoir

    A lot of comment on this, neither offensive nor libellous, has been chopped out by the blog’s censor.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Transparency is not always a good thing. The “Why not…” brigade who push for the televising of everything from post mortem examinations to trials have not been sufficiently countered by the “Probably not a good idea…” brigade. Things that are shown have now tended to become shows for a prurient public with a very thin justification of transparency or public interest. The police have jumped eagerly onto this bandwagon by becoming showmen, whether it is importing the “perp walk” from the USA, inviting film crews and journalists to showcase their “secret” operations, the tearful post-trial “hugging” of victims (first names and old family friends of course), tip-offs to the press or more sinister collusions. All of which, contrary to the intention perhaps, undermines the credibility of their impartiality and professionalism, such as it was/is. They are supposed to be detached, disinterested and scrupulously impartial. Now they are too often just another emoting “agency” pandering to vested interests and lobby groups.

  • Hippograd

    It is time, surely, to debate this properly. Several options can be
    investigated — from anonymity until charge to until trial or even until
    conviction. I am fully aware of the downsides to this, but I have tasted
    the bitterness of publicity and believe that it should be accorded an
    equal weight of recognition.

    Lots of people in Britain have tasted things far more bitter than your experience, Mr Evans. Try this, for example: Murder of Kriss Donald. And this: You are going to die slowly. You are a willing and eager part of the culturally Marxist political class that has brought about “bitterness” like that. But those were little folk, weren’t they? No need to “campaign” on their behalf or protest against the vibrancy responsible for what happened to them.


  • RavenRandom

    Makes sense that the accused should not be named. Right now it’s a free life killing hit for anyone with an agenda.

  • Andy

    It is easy to accuse behind the curtain of anonymity. Nigel Evans life will never be the same again, but what about those who falsely accused ? In the case of Ben Sullivan the Police have concluded there was not enough evidence to take further action, so no crime was committed. So why are those woman allowed to retain their anonymity ?? The balance of justice has been pushed too far in one direction.

    • Stigenace

      I think we have to distinguish between two broad types of complainant.

      Where the case hinges on interpretation of the facts or the evidence is just insufficiently compelling to secure a safe conviction, it doesn’t necessarily indicate malice on the part of the complainant. She might have given an honest account of both what happened and what she feels about it. I think her reputation out not to be ruined in such circumstances

      The other type, fabricating her account out of revenge, malice, on behalf of a third party or for whatever reason and quite prepared to bear false witness to ruin the accused’s reputation and to see him punished, then nothing should stand in the way of ensuring she is publicly named, shamed and even prosecuted for perjury, perverting the course of justice, wasting police time or anything else that can be hung on her.

      • salieri

        But it is impossible to distinguish between the two until the trial is over – and usually not even then. A complainant’s motives are very rarely as obvious as you imply. And the chance of a disbelieved complainant being prosecuted is negligible.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Unfortunately when you have a CPS which insists on referring to complainants in certain cases as “victims” and promoting the idea that justice is to be defined by the securing of more convictions the deck is already stacked against any accused.

        • TimeandtheRani

          “the idea that justice is to be defined by the securing of more convictions”

          Very well put.

      • Andy

        I would agree with what salieri says in reply to you. If you actually sit in Court and listen to these woman (and I have) it is impossible to tell the difference.

        Usually the defence cross examination starts to pick apart the liars tales and it can fall to pieces very quickly. I am very concerned that there are moves to make cross examination much ‘nicer’, and this is yet another attempt to tilt the balance away from the accused.

        Our system is an adversarial one, not inquisitorial. We should not allow it to be changed so easily.

        • Zkelly

          So if it is impossible to tell the difference, you still advocate prosecuting someone for slander and libel even if the case fell apart due to insufficient evidence and there is a chance that the rape took place? So someone has been raped, lost the case due to lack of evidence, and then gets prosecuted for it… is persecuting the small minority who make malicious claims (and I agree that these should be prosecuted) worth that? Surely all the arguments about innocent until proven guilty are just as relevant here? The fact that a case falls apart due to lack of evidence most certainly does NOT prove that the claim was malicious beyond reasonable doubt.

          • Andy

            ‘So someone has been raped, lost the case due to lack of evidence, and then gets prosecuted for it’
            But how do you know it was rape ? He is acquitted. Not Guilty is exactly that. It isn’t Not Proven, which kind of means ‘we know you did it only we can’t prove it’. You are assuming that the ‘victim’ is telling the truth, but the Jury decided other wise.

            It boils down to this. If you want someone to enjoy the cloak of anonymity, that they can accuse as they like, does that not place that person in a very privileged position ? That anonymity is for life no matter what. I do not believe it should be. If the case is lost then the anonymity should be lost too. The curtain should be drawn back. They may very well be malicious liars, but how do we know ?

            Either that or there should be no anonymity to start with, as use to be the case. That is what I would prefer.

  • telemachus

    A very sage post

    To test this I put into google “mail nigel evans rape”

    This takes you to the headline:

    “Nigel Evans ‘raped man as he slept after boozy dinner party’: Man says he agreed to share bed because he ‘did not want a bad relationship with Deputy Speaker'”

    Read more:

    If you simply put “nigel evans” into google you get “nigel evans trial” as the top suggestion and if you click that it takes you to a Guardian article of 13/4/14 that might make a casual reader think that those accused of any such crime may indeed be guilty whatever the legal outcome

    If you google “ben Sullivan”, again the top google suggestion is “ben Sullivan rape” but even if you just click ben Sullivan the top story is again the Mail

    “In the clear after six weeks of agony: Oxford Union president accused of rape is told by police they are taking no further action”

    Read more:

    How on earth can Ben now fulfil his undoubtedly great potential
    He will probably demand that Google expunge these details but I suspect he will meet no success

    • HookesLaw

      Well for once you make a good point. All google does is pull up the stories with the biggest hits and no one is interested in stories saying someone is innocent – so the only thing on immediate public record is the acusation.

      I am sure that the Saville case has encouraged lots of spurious allegations made up for spite.

      • fundamentallyflawed

        Just like racism the police force is terrified of being constantly accused of “not taking rape” seriously by a vocal minority of the population. Too the point of accusing on the sole basis of an accusation without proof. There are good articles on this over on spiked online where the burden of proof is being shifted from the prosecution to the defence where the defendant is being asked to prove consent. The sad fact is the majority of us will never face these issues and therefore cannot motivate ourselves to protect the few accused falsely.

        • Colonel Mustard

          Agreed. And that shift is another consequence of the jump from complainant to “victim” which effectively pre-judges before even investigation. The onus to prove “beyond reasonable doubt” seems to have shifted to an acceptance of pre-trial conviction on “reasonable suspicion”.

          • fundamentallyflawed

            Its part of a larger shift of controlling an increasing populace. Secret family courts (including the supervised spending of funds), widespread surveillance, life destroying punishments (proposed 10k fine for speeding for example), supporting imprisonment without trial, punishment for any free speech seen as divisive, etc etc

    • Andy

      Those who accused Ben Sullivan should be named. Why can’t he sue them for slander and/or libel ? What about the case of Bill Roache where one of those who accused him was forced to admit, under cross examination, that she could not be sure the events she was accusing him of ever took place. In other words a tissue of lies. For a woman (and it is mostly women) it is a risk free way to ruin someones life. That is wrong plain and simple.

      • dado_trunking

        If it was it shouldn’t be. Isn’t it really that simple?
        If it wasn’t risk free at all, then in which camp would that put you?

        • the viceroy’s gin

          …the one with the least amount of your army of sockpuppets?

        • balance_and_reason

          Dado…..too deep…too deep….or incoherent …one or the other.

          • dado_trunking

            I am *never* wrong – you lose twice and you’re out.
            That better?

      • Badger McElroy

        That’s absolutely no solution to the problem, all that will do is discourage women (and men) even further from speaking out against their rapists.

        • Andy

          So in the case of William Roache a woman accuses him of a sexual assault, from behind a curtain or wall of anonymity, it goes to trial with his name plastered all over the place and people tut tutting saying ‘there is no smoke without fire’. It is proved to be a tissue of lies and the woman walks away scott free. Meanwhile his reputation is ruined. And that’s Justice ??

          • Badger McElroy

            Did I say that was justice? I never said that that was a good situation, all I’m saying is that naming and shaming the accusers in cases concerning rape allegations when the case collapses isn’t going to help anything. Women who accuse men of rape without basis as some kind of personal reputation attack are in a tiny minority. The vast majority of rapes go unpunished and I think this is, sadly, a bigger issue than a small minority of celebrities whose reputations are tarnished. Despite this, perhaps pre-charge anonymity for those accused of rape is a good idea, I don’t know.

            • Andy

              Well you say that women who accuse falsely are in a ‘tiny minority’. I’m not sure we really know if that is the case or not. The CPS are keen on naming accused because it sometime leads to other ‘victims’ coming forward. Surely the same thing works in reverse. Naming the accuser might aid the defence. Cuts both ways I would have thought.

              You say ‘the vast majority of rapes go unpunished’. Is that because they are never reported ? Never go to court ? Perhaps because there isn’t a case. Or the accused is acquitted ? So are there as many rapes as we are lead to believe ??

              Its as bad as Saunders moaning that the conviction rate is low.

              I do not believe, as a matter of principle, that you should be able to accuse someone of rape behind a curtain of anonymity. Justice must be open. And if that means less women (and men) come forward, so be it.

      • Dan Grover

        A lack of evidence that something occurred isn’t proof that it didn’t, though. It’s possible for someone making an accusation to *not* be committing slander/libel but there also not being enough evidence to charge. Of course, in the eyes of the law these people are innocent, and that’s the way it should be – but that doesn’t mean that they’re automatically committing slander or lying.

        • Colonel Mustard

          “A lack of evidence that something occurred isn’t proof that it didn’t, though.”

          Sadly that is just where we are headed. Proof that it didn’t occur rather than proof beyond reasonable doubt that it did. Thinking like yours is a gift to those who want to “reform” our justice system.

          • Dan Grover

            Is that actually a problem that’s occuring, though? Our rape conviction rates are still very low as a percentage of investigations, so I think it’s hard to argue that juries are somehow convicting innocent men. Do you have reason to think otherwise?

            • Andy

              And what has ‘conviction rates’ got to do with anything ? Perhaps the reason why there are few convictions is that a) the cases brought by the CPS are rubbish, and b) maybe there aren’t as many rapes as the rent a mob want you to believe.

              • Dan Grover

                Maybe those are aspects, though there remains one obvious other, very significant one. The important thing isn’t about where the conviction rate is, however, it’s that it’s not going up, which suggests that the burden of proof remains as strong as always – ie, beyond reasonable doubt.

                • Colonel Mustard

                  But the vested interests want the proportion of convictions to increase by altering the burden of proof and tampering with old and established standards of evidence. That is the whole point.

                • Dan Grover

                  Ok? It’s not my point.

                • Andy

                  Well it could not be going up because there aren’t as many rapes as the rent a mob would have us believe. What we might have is more people screaming rape after a bad sh*g.

              • Fergus Pickering

                ‘And, saying she would ne’er consent, consented’ Byron would never get away with it nowadays..

              • Jackthesmilingblack

                All depends on your definition of rape. Stranger-on-stranger drag into the bushes is a lot different to so-called dare rape.

            • Colonel Mustard

              I’m not arguing that juries are convicting innocent men. The point is that convictions depend on a case being proven beyond a reasonable doubt not on a defendant proving his or her innocence. Since every case should be tried strictly on its own circumstances and evidence then trying to draw conclusions based on overall statistics about convictions is foolish, let alone trying to “reform” the justice system based on that fallacy.

              • Dan Grover

                I think you’ve seen me replying to a given post and just jumped to conclusions. The post I was replying to was suggested that men incorrectly arrested for these crimes and then released should sue for libel and/or slander, and my only point was that a lack of evidence of guilt isn’t the same as the accuser lying. I don’t understand what you’re taking issue with.

                • Colonel Mustard

                  No, I’m responding to specific statements you have made.

                  First “A lack of evidence that something occurred isn’t proof that it didn’t, though.”

                  Then: “Is that actually a problem that’s occuring, though? Our rape conviction rates are still very low as a percentage of investigations, so I think it’s hard to argue that juries are somehow convicting innocent men. Do you have reason to think otherwise?”

                  That is all. No jumping to conclusions.

        • Andy

          Frankly I am dismayed at the twisted logic you seem to be engaged in here. Taken to its logical conclusion any woman can stand up and say ‘Dan Glover raped me’ and it is thus a fact. Guilty M’Lord. Sod any idea of presumption of innocence and the inconvenience of actually having to have evidence and to be able to make a case beyond reasonable doubt.

          And that is actually what is happening. I think it is entirely wrong that the CPS ‘bundle’ charges. They should select one and proceed with that. If you are sat on a jury and the CPS charge Dan Glover with 8 charges isn’t the natural thing to do to think ‘well seems like he must be guilty for so many charges to be laid’.

          • Dan Grover

            Dan Glover isn’t my name, that’s the guy in Lethal Weapon so I’m not sure I have too much to fear there.

            I don’t actually know what you’re talking about in your first paragraph. Where have I said anything like that? I simply said that a lack of evidence doesn’t mean something didn’t happen. As an example, if I, Dan Glover, broke into your house but, being particularly sneaky, I wear gloves, don’t leave any biological traces and make off with your TV, there probably won’t be enough evidence to convict me. That doesn’t mean I didn’t do it. And that may also be the case with many rape cases – Rape especially, in fact, given their one-on-one, my-word-against-yours nature which means that evidence that a crime occured beyond reasonable doubt is hard to come by. Now I’m *not* saying we should just convict people anyway, or lower the bar for the sake of a heightened conviction rate, I’m simply saying that a person being cleared by a court doesn’t automatically mean that the accuser is lying. It’s possible for both to be true simultaneously. What is it about this that means I think accusations = fact?

            As for your second paragraph, I agree entirely, there’s no justification for it. What’s it got to do with my post?

            • Andy

              ‘And that may also be the case with many rape cases – Rape especially, in fact, given their one-on-one, my-word-against-yours nature which means that evidence that a crime occurred beyond reasonable doubt is hard to come by.’

              The key words are ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. If someone is found Not Guilty that means exactly that. There is no ‘Not Proven’ in English Law. And it might very well say that those who accuse did so falsely – the accusation is been found not to be true. I am also concerned that we are being treated to a witch hunt in regards to Jimmy Savile. He was a creep and a wierdo, but he is dead and cannot answer those who accuse. Doesn’t stop them making a claim against his estate though does it ?

              And my past paragraph goes with the first. What is happening here is we are being brain washed into thinking that someone is actually Guilty not Innocent. Like I say if you lay 8 charges is that tainting the Jury before a word is said ? What the CPS are doing is trying to paint someone as guilty. And I also think that the conviction rate has no relevance at all to the matter. I wish that silly woman Saunders (head of the CPS) would appreciate the point.

              • Dan Grover

                I agree with everything you say. I know there’s no “not proven” in English law, and I’m not proposing a change to it. But this isn’t the same as a slander, because the accusation also needs to be proved beyond reasonable doubt to be a lie – which also may not be true. I agree that the conviction rate has nothing to do with it, but I wasn’t the one that said that “Sadly that is just where we are headed. Proof that it didn’t occur rather than proof beyond reasonable doubt that it did.” (And nor were you, it was the Colonel below) – I raised the conviction rates as a counter point to the idea that this worry is actually permeating into the legal process.

                • ClausewitzTheMunificent

                  Let us be Scientific. If there is evidence, then a sentence can be imposed. If there is no evidence, it is as if the crime were not committed. To all intents and purposes it did not happen. The tricky bit is if there is evidence just short of damning and that is for the lawyers and judges to argue over. Your argument is nonsense in that if brought it to its logical conclusion, then everything no matter how unfounded could be justified. E.g. Sure, we have no evidence that person A is a contract killer, but A could have been “really good”, so it is possible, so convict A.

        • Tom M

          If someone makes an accusation of this gravity then I think it incumbent upon the system to take some action if the accusation falls apart to such an extent as the one Andy quotes above. Whether that be a slander or libel charge is irrelevent. What is important is that spurious allegations like that just cannot be allowed go unpunished.