Going too far

The political commentator and activist Darren Grimes and the historian David Starkey are being investigated by the police for an interview broadcast online, in which the latter put forward the proposition that the transatlantic slave trade could not have been a genocide because “there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain, would there?”

Fortunately, it is looking like the police are preparing a come-down, but how in a supposedly free society did this ever come to pass?

Mr Grimes has been told to report to a police station to be interviewed under caution for the offence of stirring up racial hatred. His role in the affair was as a sympathetic interviewer of Dr Starkey.

According to a document put out by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) there were just thirteen prosecutions of stirring up racial or religious hatred in 2018/19, 11 of which were successful. The same document gives some examples of the types of case that result in successful prosecution:

“In response to the London Bridge and Borough Market attacks, Ian Evans posted messages… [urging] people to ‘fight back’, to ‘hunt and kill Muslims’…”

“In response to the bombing in Manchester on 22 March 2017, Keegan Jakovlevs posted messages on Facebook inviting his readers to kill every Muslim they see.”

“… Andrew Emery published a number of posts on his public Facebook account targeting the Muslim community… he invited serial killers and murderers to target the Muslim community and invited his readers to burn down mosques.”

Such examples are the standard for successful prosecution. As Dr Starkey has admitted, his words were offensive but clumsily used to convey the idea that there were many black people in the world today. That this is an argument against the idea that the transatlantic slave trade qualifies as a genocide is both fallacious and beside the point. His words, his intent, the entire context of the interview do not compare to the examples given by the CPS. That Mr Grimes should be drawn into this is even more astonishing.

As the CPS document makes clear, the Public Order Act 1986 focuses on “hatred itself and the intention or likely effect of the offence in question.” That it could be proven in court that either actor intended to stir up hatred, given the content of the interview, or that otherwise tolerant people might suddenly change their minds and come to hate black people all because Dr Starkey said “so many damn blacks” is laughable without being funny.

The CPS document further adds that the reason there are so few prosecutions is because of:

“…higher evidential thresholds and the need to consider an individual’s right to freedom of expression. It is essential in a free democratic and tolerant society that people are able to exchange views, even when offence may be caused.” (my underlining for emphasis)

Note that the Metropolitan police sought CPS advice before proceeding on this matter and that the CPS believes it must balance individual rights to freedom of speech and expression “against the duty of the state to act proportionately in the interests of public safety, to prevent disorder and crime, and to protect the rights of others.” Given the standard for prosecution, where is the proportionality here?

Prosecution of offences of stirring up hatred requires the consent of the Attorney General. Suella Braverman QC MP is known as a critic of what she has called ‘cultural Marxism’ and it is highly unlikely she would give her consent.

In his interview Dr Starkey was withering in his criticism of the police itself, as well as political, cultural and academic orthodoxy. As he said:

“Has there been anything more shocking than policemen going down on their knees before rioters? What is the symbolism of that?”

Listening to the interview, it is clear that Mr Starkey is deeply learned and with much to say, however provocative he may be. How can we have public debate with legal as well as professional consequences for a simple mistake?

Mr Grimes also criticised the police for selectively applying the law regarding Black Lives Matter protests.

The Metropolitan police risks giving the impression that it is harassing its critics. It is wasting its time and our money where it might be spending such resources more wisely in general and specifically on victims of violent crime instead.

If any lessons are to be learned from this, it needs to be asked what the ideas were behind the decision of the police to pursue this as well as the incentives that made this a priority, over other matters. Note reports that the Met has sought to deprioritise “low-level crime”.

The message of Dr Starkey’s interview was that our institutions are often governed by those with little if any appreciation for our history of liberty. Mr Grimes, in turn has alleged there is an establishment vendetta against him for his political views. In light of the Met’s actions, it is easy to say they have something of a point.

Richard Norrie Written by:

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