Sir Cliff Richard said people still believe there is “no smoke without fire” after he was wrongly accused of sexual assault as he called for a change in the law to protect those facing false allegations.
The pop star, 78, was speaking in central London as he helped launch a petition which has called for people accused of sexual offences to remain anonymous until they are charged.
Sir Cliff was publicly named over an allegation against him after a police raid on his home – which was broadcast by the BBC – in the summer of 2014, but he was never arrested or charged.
“My reputation, it seemed to me at that stage, was in absolute tatters,” Sir Cliff told reporters.
“Will I ever get over it? I can get past it. I am past it. I’m on tour now and I’m having the most wonderful time.
“Will I ever got over it? I can’t see how any individual, particularly because of the way the internet functions [can get over it].
“There are people who still believe in that stupid saying of ‘no smoke without fire’.
“Despite no charges being brought against me and despite winning my privacy case, I’m sure there are still people who believe in that stupid adage of ‘no smoke without fire’.”
Sir Cliff said he did not sleep properly for four years during his ordeal, came out in shingles all over his face and head, and felt like he had been “hung out to dry”.
“We find it difficult to believe that people can be evil enough to tell an absolute lie about an innocent person,” he added.
“That’s really what we’re trying to get rid of.”
Sir Cliff called for a “re-balancing of the legal system” and said there were hundreds – if not thousands – of people who had been affected in the same way, including “heartbreaking stories” of some who had spent time in prison after being wrongly accused.
The singer last year won £210,000 in damages from a court battle with the BBC after a judge ruled the corporation had violated his privacy rights in a “serious and sensationalist way”.
The petition had attracted more than 6,000 signatures by Monday lunchtime and Sir Cliff was joined at the launch by DJ Paul Gambaccini, who was also wrongly accused of committing historical sex offences.
Gambaccini, who was arrested in October 2013 as part of Operation Yewtree in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal, said he used to love the UK until he was “betrayed” by law enforcement agencies over “preposterous” allegations.
The 70-year-old added that his family “did not deserve to be hit over the head with a sledge hammer” when they were drawn into the matter when contacted by the press over the allegations.
DJ Paul Gambaccini – who was falsely accused in 2013 of a sexual offence – says his treatment by the British legal system and media was a “travesty”.
He is backing a campaign to give anonymity to people accused of sexual offences.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) July 1, 2019
Gambaccini told Sky News: “As I little boy I had lived through McCarthyism in the United States and it was exactly a similar thing, it’s just the crime du jour had changed.”
If support for the petition tops 10,000 signatures, it will get a government response, while 100,000 signatures will mean it is considered for debate in parliament.
The petition – from pressure group Falsely Accused Individuals for Reform (Fair) – says anonymity is needed “to protect the reputations of all innocent suspects, whether well-known or not, from the lasting stigma of a false sexual allegation”.
Fair was founded by Daniel Janner QC, son of the late Labour peer Lord Janner who faced allegations of child sex abuse.
Lord Janner’s family have always maintained his innocence.