Police are set to review a ‘race hate’ investigation against journalist Darren Grimes and David Starkey to ensure it is ‘proportionate,’ after the historian made a ‘damn blacks’ remark during a YouTube interview.
Scotland Yard launched a probe against Grimes for allegedly stirring up racial hatred, after sharing his interview with Starkey online.
During the interview, radio presenter and author Starkey, 75, claimed ‘slavery was not genocide, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain’ at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests.
The Metropolitan Police’s decision to probe Grimes, 27, has sparked a freedom of speech backlash from politicians and journalists.
Home Secretary Priti Patel, ex-Home Secretary Sajid Javid and former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron have all slammed the Met Police’s pursuit of Mr Grimes.
Lord Macdonald, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, called the police probe ‘sinister and foolish’ and described the investigation as a ‘political stunt’.
Today Grimes tweeted that the Met Police was reviewing its investigation, and that he would not be interviewed by an officer.
He said: ‘The police have cancelled my interview with them on Friday and announced a ‘senior officer’ has been appointed to conduct a review into the investigation to ensure it ‘remains proportionate’. They say they’ll update me in ‘due course’.
Journalist Darren Grimes says he will demand a copy of the Crown Prosecution Service’s advice to police, warning the investigation into him set a ‘dangerous’ precedent
Grimes, 27, is accused of stirring up racial hatred after sharing an interview on YouTube with historian David Starkey, who claimed ‘slavery was not genocide, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain’
Grimes said he would be requesting a copy for the Crown Prosecution Service’s advice to police, warning the investigation into him set a ‘dangerous’ precedent.
He added: ‘This vexatious claim against me should never have been investigated. At a time when many have been propelled into misery as a consequence of the lockdown strategy, it is a gross abuse of taxpayer cash and police time.
‘We need an urgent review of the unprecedented use of this legislation to attack press freedom. The worrying thing is that had it been someone unable to kick up a fuss like I did they would have been hauled in and had to face police action over a vexatious complaint like this.
‘Scotland Yard has said a senior officer would be looking at the investigation to see if it was ‘proportionate’.’
Toby Young, general secretary of the Free Speech Union, said: ‘I’m relieved that this is over, but alarmed that the police embarked on this witch-hunt in the first place.
‘Dr David Starkey’s words never came anywhere near meeting the threshold for stirring yup racial hatred, let alone Darren Grime’s decision to broadcast them.
‘The Free Speech Union was able to find a top criminal solicitor to defend them and helped galvanise support across the media and in Government. But for every person we’re able to help, ninety-nine go undefended.
‘Everyone should be defending the right to free speech, not just those on the frontline. If you don’t stick up for the speech rights of contrarians – even those who offend people – the authorities will eventually come after you.’
Darren Grimes said a senior Met Police officer was reviewing an investigation into him and Mr Starkey to see if it was ‘proportionate’
In a statement, Metropolitan Police confirmed Mr Grimes’ update.
A spokesperson from the Met Police said: ‘On 4 July, the Metropolitan Police Service was passed an allegation from Durham Police of a public order offence relating to a social media video posted on 30 June.
‘The matter was reviewed by officers and on 29 July a file was submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for early investigative advice.
‘On 25 September early investigative advice was received and officers began an investigation.
‘No arrests have been made.On Monday, 12 October a senior officer was appointed to conduct a review of the investigation to ensure it remains proportionate and that all appropriate lines of inquiry are being considered.
‘Whilst this process takes place, two scheduled interviews have been postponed. We remain in contact with the CPS.’
Since the investigation has come to light, Mr Grimes has also been backed by Douglas Murray, associate editor of The Spectator magazine, and the Free Speech Union, whose general secretary called the Met’s inquiry ‘absurd’.
The blogger, who came to prominence as a pro-Brexit campaigner, admitted he should have ‘robustly questioned’ Starkey about his comments, but said the decision to investigate him raises ‘serious repercussions for freedom of expression’.
Yesterday TV historian Starkey said he is also being investigated by the Met Police. His incendiary comments, made during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, led to his resignation from his fellowship at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge.
He also lost a book deal with HarperCollins and apologised for his remark.
The Met Police wrote to Grimes on October 7, asking him to attend an interview he was accused of stirring up racial hatred by sharing his interview on YouTube.
Tim Farron, the former Lib Dem leader, added: ‘There might be more than meets the eye here, but on the face of it this is completely ridiculous’
However, the Met Police have come under fire for its decision to investigate Grimes, with Tory backbencher Sajid Javid calling the decision ‘plainly absurd’
Ben Bradley, Conservative MP for Mansfield, angrily tweeted: ‘God save the world when people being offended makes something a criminal offence!!’
Douglas Murray, author and editor of The Spectator magazine, said: This is not the behaviour of a police force in a free society. ‘Hauling someone into a police station for something someone said to them in an interview? Shame on the @metpolice uk’
In a statement, Starkey said the Met Police sent him an email via his inbox at the Bow Group, a conservative think-tank where he is a Vice-President.
However, Starkey said the Group binned the email after assuming it was a hoax, owing to its ‘wording’. He said the ‘effect of this delay and confusion has been to throw the focus of the police investigation wholly on Mr Grimes’, which he called ‘unfortunate and grossly unfair’.
Starkey apologised for making the remarks during the hour-long interview with Grimes, but denied committing a public order offence. He continued: ‘The focus on Mr Grimes has raised fundamental questions about the freedom of the press and public debate.
The Public Order Act
Grimes is being investigated by the Met Police under the Public Order Act.
Before the introduction of the Public Order Act 1986, policing public order was based on various relevant common law offences, and the Public Order Act 1936.
Several factors influenced the introduction of the Public Order Act 1986. Significant public disorder, such as the Southall riot in 1979, the Brixton riot that extended to other cities in 1981, and the national miner’s strike and associated disorder between 1984 and 1985 – in particular the Battle of Orgreave in June 1984 – and the Battle of the Beanfield in June 1985.
Furthermore, the 1983 Law Commission report, Criminal Law: Offences Relating to Public Order recommended updating the law.
However, the police have been accused of misusing its powers. During the 2009 G20 London summit protests, for example, journalists were forced to leave the protests by police who threatened them with arrest.
Scotland Yard’s investigation of Grimes has been criticised by free-speech advocates because it stretches the use of the 1986 Act.
According to the Crown Prosecution Service: ‘The purpose of public order law is to ensure that individual rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are balanced against the rights of others to go about their daily lives unhindered.’
‘As I said in my original apology, my principal concern was that my blundering use of language and the penalties it has incurred would further chill public debate and freedom of expression.
‘This fear is being fulfilled more quickly than I thought. And it is shared by many senior voices of all political persuasions who have intervened to say that this police investigation is neither proportionate nor in the best interests of preserving proper freedom of expression and reporting.
‘Despite this, I will, of course, cooperate with the police in this matter.’
He added: ‘This morning, Tuesday, October 13, I was forwarded an email from the Metropolitan Police. It was sent on October 7, the same day that the Met also approached Mr Grimes. His email reached him directly. Mine, however, was sent to The Bow Group.
‘Though I have a titular position as a Vice-President, I have no day-to-day contact with the Group. At the time, the wording of the email led the Group to assume that it was a hoax, of which they receive a great many, and it was binned.
‘The recent press publicity about the Met’s approach to Mr Grimes made the Group realise that it might be genuine and, as I have said, it was sent to me early this morning.
‘The effect of this delay and confusion has been to throw the focus of the police investigation wholly on Mr Grimes. This is unfortunate and grossly unfair.
‘Mr Grimes is a young, aspiring journalist and his role in the affair is – at most – secondary. I have apologised unreservedly for the words used and I do so again today. It was a serious error for which I have already paid a significant price.
‘I did not, however, intend to stir up racial hatred and there was nothing about the circumstances of the broadcast which made it likely to do so. The remarks occurred in the context of an interview which lasted close to an hour and in which I celebrated the contribution of BAME people to British history and culture.
‘I will defend myself robustly against any allegation of criminal wrongdoing.’
In a statement to The Daily Telegraph, Mr Grimes said the police investigation had ‘serious repercussions for freedom of expression’.
Mr Young, general secretary of the Free Speech Union, told MailOnline: ‘The suggestion that Dr David Starkey may be guilty of stirring up racial hatred is absurd.
‘The only person he stirred up hatred against is himself and he has paid a heavy price for it. He has also unreservedly apologised for his remarks.
‘The Public Order Act, which criminalises stirring up racial hatred, is intended to preserve public order, not regulate speech and debate.
‘If the police start abusing it in this way to intimidate and harass people who dissent from woke orthodoxy they will undermine the rule of law.’
Meanwhile, Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors, which aims to protect media freedom, said the organisation was ‘deeply concerned by the threat such an investigation poses to free speech and the chilling effect it could have on the media’s ability to interview controversial figures’.
Lord Macdonald of River Glaven told The Times that ‘offensiveness is not a crime and for the police now, weeks later, to target the journalist who interviewed him is both sinister and foolish’.
He added: ‘It looks like they are letting themselves be used as part of a political stunt – and, what’s worse, a stunt that is deeply threatening to free speech.’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer yesterday came under fire for refusing to criticise Scotland Yard’s pursuit of Mr Grimes while speaking on LBC.
He said he believed the authorities had to investigate people to ‘go over the line’, adding: ‘I think it does sometimes have to involve the police.
‘There has got to be a level of tolerance of course, but there is a line which can be crossed, and it’s very important that it is investigated, and in some cases prosecutions. When people go over the line it’s right that it’s investigated.’
The case will be raised at the Commons home affairs committee this week by Conservative MP Tim Loughton, who said Met Commissioner Cressida Dick should be questioned over a ‘vexatious investigation’.
Former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said: ‘Grimes is not responsible for Starkey’s appalling comments. In a free society, we surely don’t do things like this?’
Grimes, who founded pro-Brexit group BeLeave during the 2016 referendum, called for a change in hate crime laws to protect journalists.
He added in a ‘free and democratic’ society, journalists must be free to ‘interview a wide range of people, including those likely to make controversial remarks’.