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Why is the BBC saying Boris’s Savile claims are false?


Is Boris Johnson’s claim that Keir Starmer failed to prosecute Jimmy Savile ‘false’? The BBC certainly thinks so. During the Radio 6 bulletins last night, a BBC newsreader stated

The Commons Speaker has rebuked Boris Johnson over his false claim that Sir Keir Starmer failed to prosecute Jimmy Savile after the Labour leader was targetted by protesters. 

It’s obvious that the dispute isn’t nearly as clear cut as the BBC is making out

Last week, the Prime Minister said during a Commons statement that Starmer had spent his time as head of the Crown Prosecution Service ‘prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile’. An odd response to questions about the Sue Gray report, and certainly distasteful to use heinous sex crimes as a political attack. But is it ‘false’?

Let’s look at the context: Starmer was director of public prosecutions from 2008 to 2013. In 2009, Savile was interviewed under caution after Surrey and Sussex police consulted the CPS. The reviewing lawyer in the case eventually decided not to prosecute Savile after being told that none of the complainants were prepared to support police action. However, a 2013 report by Alison Levitt QC into that decision found that prosecutors should have ‘taken a different approach’ and that the allegations were ‘both serious and credible’. She concluded: ‘the prosecutor should have recognised this and sought to “build” a prosecution’.

In a BBC fact check article from last week, the Corporation stated that there was ‘no evidence that Sir Keir was involved at any point in the decision not to charge Savile’. That is undoubtedly true, but the key distinction over the claim is not a factual one — it is a question of where responsibility should lie. The BBC’s position is that because there is no evidence for Starmer’s involvement in the case, he cannot be held responsible for the decision.

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Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to or message @MrSteerpike

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