The Society of Editors (SoE) has welcomed a decision by the Met Police to drop an investigation into journalist Darren Grimes following his controversial interview with historian David Starkey.
Grimes has been asked, earlier this month, to attend a police station to be interviewed under caution to respond to accusations of stirring up racial hatred after publishing a podcast in which Dr Starkey said that slavery was not genocide. Starkey was also confirmed as under investigation following the remarks.
Following widespread criticism of the investigation into Grimes, the Met confirmed last week that the planned interviews had been postponed subject to the outcome of “a review of the investigation” to ensure it remained “proportionate”. The decision to drop the investigation into both Grimes and Starkey was confirmed yesterday.
Responding to the news, Ian Murray, Executive Director of the Society of Editors welcomed the decision and said that the investigation into Grimes should never have taken place.
He said: “The Society welcomes the decision by Scotland Yard to drop the investigation into Darren Grimes. The investigation should never have taken place and, as the Society previously warned, it posed a serious threat to free speech and could have had a chilling effect on the media’s ability to interview controversial figures.”
Writing on Twitter, Grimes described it as a “vexatious charge” that had involved the “unprecedented use of the Public Order Act to regulate speech & debate”. He highlighted his intention to seek clarification from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on the criteria it set for the initial advice that prompted the police’s investigation
Responding to Grimes’ comments, Murray said that the Society had also written to the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions seeking clarification on the criteria for investigations conducted under the Public Order Act.
Murray added: “The Society welcomes Grimes’ intention to seek clarification from the CPS on what the criteria was for the initial advice which prompted the police’s continuation of their investigation into him under the Public Order Act.
“It is a dangerous precedent where the police seeks to hold a journalist accountable for “stirring up racial hatred” on the basis of their publication of the remarks of another. The investigation into Grimes raises serious questions about press freedom and freedom of speech and we would welcome the government’s official clarification on this.”
The decision to stop the case was made following an internal review that found that the investigation was “no longer proportionate” Scotland Yard confirmed.
Commander Paul Brogden from the force said: “It is the duty of police to assess and, if appropriate, fully investigate alleged offences and the public would expect us to investigate an allegation of this nature.
“We conducted initial inquiries to establish the full circumstances and sought early advice from the CPS. Having had the opportunity to review this, it is no longer proportionate that this investigation continues.
“We have made direct contact with the individuals involved and updated them on this decision.”
The Society had previously warned that the investigation into Grimes raised concerns over free speech and could have had a “chilling effect” on journalists if they were sought to be held accountable for the remarks of their interviewees. The decision was also criticised by Home Secretary Priti Patel and former Home Secretary Sajid Javid.