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October 21, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:40am

Police drop investigation into Darren Grimes and David Starkey over slavery comments in interview

By Dominic Ponsford

Update 21 October:

The Met Police have dropped their investigation into Darren Grimes and his interviewee David Starkey following a review to make sure the enquiries were “proportionate”.

Grimes said: “…the fact that it was allowed to reach this point, the fact that a precedent has been set that says that a broadcaster or journalist can face police arrest and a maximum of seven years prison time for interviewing a controversial guest is truly chilling indeed.”

The Youtuber added that he planned to seek the CPS advice that led to the investigation.

Starkey added: “The investigation should never of course have begun. From the beginning it was misconceived, oppressive and designed to misuse the criminal law to curtail the proper freedom of expression and debate.

“This freedom is our birthright; and it is more important than ever at this critical juncture in our nation’s history.”

Update 15 October: The Met Police has suspended plans to interview Darren Grimes and David Starkey over comments made on a podcast.

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A Met Police spokesperson said: “On Monday, October 12, 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.”

Update 13 October: David Starkey is also being investigated by police for his comments, and called the focus of the investigation on Grimes “unfortunate and grossly unfair”.

Starkey, who has apologised for his comments, said: “Mr Grimes is a young, aspiring journalist and his role in the affair is – at most – secondary.”

He added that the focus on Grimes “raised fundamental questions” about the freedom of the press and public debate.

He added: “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.”

Original story on 12 October:

Right-wing commentator and Youtuber Darren Grimes has been threatened with arrest if he does not appear for a police interview following his interview with the historian David Starkey.

Grimes has been invited for a police interview after being told he has committed a possible offence under Section 22 of the Public Order Act.

It is extremely rare for someone reporting the comments of another person to face prosecution under this law.

Media law expert David Banks has said the targeting of Grimes is a worrying development for all journalists.

Starkey was speaking to Grimes for his Youtube channel and podcast in July when the well-known academic said slavery was not genocide because “so many damn blacks survived”.

Grimes has been contacted by a detective constable from the Met Police’s Public Protection Unit (the division which deals with hate crime).

He said the police told him they have already sought advice from the Crown Prosecution Service and that he has been informed he could face arrest if he refuses to appear for interview.

The 27-year-old used to work for Brexit Central and now makes a living from advertising sold on his Youtube channel Reasoned and from a crowdfunding appeal that has raised £26,000.

Grimes admitted that he should have challenged Starkey, who has presented TV programmes on the BBC about British history, when he made his offensive comment, but said he was rather over-awed by him.

“As far as Tudors and the Reformation are concerned I learned more about those topic from him than I did at school,” he told Press Gazette.

“No-one is defending what David Starkey said, including David Starkey. He has now been airbrushed from history as a result.

“I don’t think what he said goes anywhere near the threshold of stirring up racial hatred. I think this is a waste of police time from a police force that are always complaining about cuts.”

He added: “This isn’t just about me. I’m concerned about freedom of speech and freedom of the press in general.”

Section 22 of the Public Order Act 1986 carries a maximum punishment of seven years in prison and states an offence has been committed if a broadcast is “threatening, abusive or insulting” and is either intended to stir up racial hatred or is likely to do so.

Banks said it was unusual for this act to be used against someone carrying out journalism.

“It is one of those laws which you let journalists be aware of when they are interviewing far-right candidates who might say something racist in their election speeches and campaign literature.

“We’ve had elections with far-right candidates, but I can’t recall a journalist ever being prosecuted for carrying a hustings speech by a BNP candidate or anything like this because they are just reporting news…

“It’s a little bit worrying journalistically if we are having to very closely examine the words of the people we are interviewing. In the past we have always felt we are exposing the views of the people.

“Now if they are saying the fact we might carry them as a publication is likely to stir up racial hatred, [that] is a worrying development. Any journalist covering extremist views has got be concerned.

“The words Starkey used are offensive, but offensive is not the trigger for this offence – it has got be something that would stir up racial hatred. I don’t think the words he used are enough to do that.”

On the question of whether Grimes failed to question Starkey or provide balance, Banks said: “Grimes was doing a journalistic activity.

“We can’t have police and the CPS deciding what standard of journalism is appropriate and for them to exercise judgment if you are being a good enough journalist in covering this issue.

“They shouldn’t even be venturing down that route. This could so easily apply to other journalists doing investigative stuff.

“A more seasoned journalist might have jumped on David Starkey harder in that interview, but here are lots of junior reporters who wouldn’t because they haven’t got the confidence to do that.”

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