A MAN cleared of rape is demanding a change in the law after claiming his life has been ruined in the 20 months since the allegation was first made.

John Mchale, 26, of Millfield Road, in Fishburn, was charged with rape in May 1999 but yesterday was cleared at Teesside Crown Court, after two earlier trials were dismissed.

He is now calling for a change in the law so defendants in rape cases can enjoy the same anonymity as alleged victims.

As the law stands, victims in sex cases cannot be identified once they make a formal complaint, but men accused of rape can be named even before they go to trial.

Mr Mchale and his family have written to Prime Minister Tony Blair calling for a change in the law because, although he has been cleared, he faced a barrage of abuse and was twice forced to move home.

He said: "People have come up to me in the street. I had a house in Fishburn but I had to move out, so I moved into my mum's caravan in Hartlepool, but that was attacked so we moved again.

"I had a job as a security manager, but I was getting stick at work so I had to leave. I haven't worked for 20 months."

Mr Mchale has now been prescribed anti-depressants.

He said: "Whatever happened to being innocent until proven guilty? This accusation has ruined my life, because people just assume there is no smoke without fire.

"If I hadn't been identified in court, then no one would have known and I could have got on with my life until I cleared my name."

A spokeswoman for the North-East domestic violence helpline has backed the call for men to have anonymity in rape trials as well as women.

She said: "Except in cases where the public is at risk, men accused of rape should not be named.

"If the man is not guilty, it's a terrible stigma.

"As far as women being identified, we don't want to go back to the bad old days. It was a very hard fight to win women anonymity and they need that protection."