MPs have blasted the Metropolitan Police’s decision to probe Brexiteer Darren Grimes for allegedly stirring up racial hatred after interviewing TV historian David Starkey.
Grimes, 27, is to be interviewed by Scotland Yard under caution at a police station after interviewing Dr Starkey on his Reasoned UK YouTube channel on June 30.
The 75-year-old historian provoked widespead fury at the peak of the Black Lives Matter protests by commenting: ‘Slavery was not genocide, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain, would there?’
In the ensuing furore, he resigned from his fellowship at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, and lost a book deal with HarperCollins.
Dr Starkey later said his remark was a ‘bad mistake’, adding: ‘I am very sorry for it and I apologise unreservedly for the offence it caused.’
Mr Grimes – who came to prominence as a pro-Brexit campaigner – also issued an apology, saying he should have ‘robustly questioned’ the historian about the comments.
Now he is accused of the public order offence of stirring up racial hatred. The maximum penalty is seven years in prison.
It is understood that Dr Starkey has not been contacted by police.
However, the Met Police have come under fire for its decision to investigate Grimes under the Public Order Act, with former Home Secretary Sajid Javid calling the decision ‘plainly absurd’.
Brexiteer Darren Grimes, pictured, is to be questioned under caution by the Metropolitan Police over an interview he conducted on a YouTube channel
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!!’
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’
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.’
Mr Javid tweeted: ‘David Starkey’s comments were appalling. But, the idea that it’s appropriate to go after journalists for the remarks of their interviewees is plainly absurd.
‘For the sake of our cherished free press, I hope @metpoliceuk reconsider.’
He was followed by Ben Bradley, Conservative MP for Mansfield, who angrily said: ‘God save the world when people being offended makes something a criminal offence!!
‘In this case Darren’s ‘crime’ according to accusers is not predicting that his interviewee would say something offensive. Investigated for being in the vicinity of someone else’s thoughtcrime’.
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.
‘Grimes is not responsible for Starkey’s appalling comments. In a free society, we surely don’t do things like this?’
BBC broadcaster Jeremy Vine asked: ‘If someone makes racist comments during an interview, do the police now arrest the interviewer? Under which law?’
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.’
The Freedom Association accused the Met Police of ‘undermining’ the rule of law, adding: ‘Free speech matters. We stand shoulder to shoulder with Darren Grimes’.
Meanwhile, one of Sir Keir Starmer’s shadow ministers refused to condemn the Met Police decision to investigate Grimes.
Karl Turner, Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull East, said: ‘Freedom of speech Darren doesn’t afford people the freedom to make racist remarks or generally offend.
‘I shall say nothing further given that you say @metpoliceuk are investigating a complaint.’
Speaking to MailOnline, Mr Grimes said: ‘I’m 27 and this year I’ve been investigated by the police twice for vexatious charges.
‘The trend of fighting those whose views you don’t like through our legal system is a really nasty one that has wasted much of my twenties. These people want to destroy me – I’m not going away.
‘I’m delighted that from ‘I’m literally a communist’ Ash Sarkar to former Home Secretary Sajid Javid, figures from across the political spectrum recognise that in its actions the police are setting an incredibly dangerous precedent for press freedom that must be resisted.’
Toby Young, general secretary of the Free Speech Union, told MailOnline: ‘Almost everyone has rightly condemned this grotesque assault on the freedom of the press, including an ex-Home Secretary.
Grimes interviewed Prof David Starkey, pictured, who later apologised for the offence caused by his remarks on the YouTube channel
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’
The Freedom Association accused the Met Police of ‘undermining’ the rule of law, adding: ‘Free speech matters. We stand shoulder to shoulder with Darren Grimes’
‘I hope the Met recognises that it’s made a silly mistake and drops this investigation immediately.
‘In a free country, journalists shouldn’t be threatened with arrest because someone they’ve interviewed has said something offensive.’
A statement on the Free Speech Union website said: ‘To accuse Mr Grimes of stirring up racial hatred is absurd. The only hatred Dr Starkey stirred up was against himself.’
Mr Young said Mr Grimes would never have apologised ‘if he had intended to stir up racial hatred in the course of a broadcast only days earlier’.
He asked if journalists would now face police action over the comments made by those they were interviewing. Such action would have ‘a chilling effect on free speech, which is the lifeblood of democracy’.
Grimes’ lawyer Luke Gittos of Murrays Partnership said: ‘Mr Grimes is, of course, maintaining his innocence.
‘This is an unprecedented use of Public Order legislation to target a member of the broadcast media. It should concern anyone who believes in freedom of the press.’
Mr Grimes founded BeLeave, a pro-Brexit group aimed at younger voters during the 2016 referendum campaign.
Last year he succeeded in overturning a £20,000 fine handed out by the Electoral Commission over spending offences. He was also the deputy editor of political website BrexitCentral until 2018.
The Met investigation comes after a complaint was made to Durham Police. Mr Grimes lives in London.
A Scotland Yard spokesman said: ‘On July 4, the Metropolitan Police Service was passed an allegation from Durham Police of a public order offence relating to a social media video posted on June 30. The matter is being investigated. No arrests.’