Things are never as straightforward or simple as they seem on the front page of the Daily Telegraph. Take today’s Tele splash which carries this over the top headline: “Is this stalking law the most ridiculous ever?”

According to the Tele’s Gemma Jones, a 15-year-old teenage girl who was allegedly being stalked by a 27- year-old man has had her identity revealed to the accused when police served the man with a charge sheet. Victims’ lobbyists are outraged that defendants are entitled to know the name of those they are alleged to have attacked, arguing that this could jeopardize the safety of the alleged victims.

The Tele’s take on the law is an arguable one, although it ignores the fundamental principle that a person is entitled to know the identity of their accuser. But it is the outrageous assumptions and innuendo in the story that completely undermines the argument being pushed by it.

The Tele starts from the premise that the man who has been charged is already guilty, despite the fact that his case has not even been heard yet. In its opening paragraph the Tele story refers to the accused man as a “pervert”. And the girl who alleges the stalking occurred is called “distressed”. In other words, he has just lost the presumption of innocence! This man’s chances of getting a fair trial just took a dive, courtesy of the Telegraph’s rush to judgment. For the record, his first court appearance is on October 14 at Mount Druitt Local Court, according to the NSW Police.

But it gets worse with the Tele then seeking in a none too subtle way to link this accused man with a series of attempted child abductions that have allegedly taken place in Sydney “recent weeks”, according to the Tele.

There is no evidence in the story which suggests the accused man has been charged with attempting to abduct the alleged 15-year-old victim, but that he is being charged with, according to the New South Wales Police, “stalk/intimidate with intent to cause fear/physical or mental harm”. They are very different offences.

But does the Telegraph have a point about protecting the identity of accusers in criminal matters? Superficially it looks an attractive idea but on closer examination it is one that is patently unfair.

An accused person and his or her lawyer is entitled to know the identity of the person who alleges that the accused committed a crime. There is a simple and commonsense reason for this — those making allegations sometimes make things up, may have a motive for accusing a person or may have a history of making complaints which are unproven.

Is the Tele seriously suggesting that a person is entitled to make a serious allegation — in this case stalking a 15-year-old girl — that could result in jail time and loss of reputation, without the person accused being able to fully test the veracity of the allegations? Surely not!

Peter Fray

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