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01st Feb 2022

Did Keir Starmer hinder the Jimmy Saville investigation?

Ava Evans

‘A ridiculous slur peddled by right-wing trolls’

The Prime Minister has been described as “dangerous” by his own MPs after claiming Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was responsible for failing to prosecute disgraced TV and radio presenter Jimmy Savile.

Starmer was Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) when allegations were first passed to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), but there is no evidence to suggest he had any direct involvement in the failure to prosecute the prolific sex offender.

Here’s a fact check on Johnson’s claim.

So what did Boris claim?

Speaking in the Commons on Monday, the prime minister claimed Starmer “used his time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile, as far as I can see”.

Starmer described the claim as a “ridiculous slur peddled by right-wing trolls”. He also claimed he could see “disgust” in the faces of the Tory MPs when Johnson “debased himself” by bringing up Savile

Johnson’s own MPs have described it as a “smear” that “cannot be defended” and should be withdrawn.

What was Starmer’s involvement with the Savile investigation?

In 2008, a month before Starmer became director of public prosecutions (DPP) at the CPS, Sussex Police confirmed it had dropped an investigation into a possible sexual assault against Savile because the complainant did not want to take the matter further.

A year later, four sexual abuse claims against Savile were reviewed by the CPS, who felt there was insufficient evidence to proceed because none of the accusers were prepared to support a prosecution.

While he was the DPP at the time, Starmer was not the reviewing lawyer on the case.

Former chief prosecutor Nazir Afzal said because of the volume of cases – just shy of one million a year – individual team leaders and chiefs make decisions, rather than the DPP having oversight of them all. “That’s where the decision in Savile was taken”, far away from Starmer, he said.

Starmer did, however, >commission a review, headed by Alison Levitt QC, in which he revealed failures at the heart of the CPS, and in 2013 issued an apology.

The process was overhauled, requiring chiefs to notify the DPP of all high-profile cases regardless of seriousness.<

Afzal uses an analogy to explain: “A surgeon makes judgments on a particular patient and their trust takes responsibility for it.

“The head of the NHS is never involved. But can fix any training or management need that arises from a mistake.”

How did Labour react?

Speaking on Sky News on Tuesday morning, Starmer described the accusation as “a ridiculous slur peddled by right-wing trolls”.

He said the Tory MPs present in the chamber during Johnson’s answer “knew he was going so low with that slur, with that lie”, claiming “he’d been advised not to do it because it’s obviously not true”.

Starmer added that while he was DPP, he was superintended by a Conservative Attorney General, which proves the claim is as “ridiculous as it gets”.

Dominic Grieve, the former Conservative MP who served as Attorney General during Starmer’s tenure as DPP, has said Johnson “irrelevantly and entirely falsely smeared Keir Starmer for a failure to prosecute Jimmy Saville”.


Starmer led the CPS when it did not charge Savile, but there is no evidence that he ever handled the case directly.

Given he had no direct involvement, he could not hinder the investigation.

Afzal adds that Starmer in fact supported him in “bringing 100s of child sex abusers to justice” while working under him as DPP.

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