Boris Johnson, Sir Keir Starmer and Jimmy Savile: how the row hit Westminster

Boris Johnson, Sir Keir Starmer And Jimmy Savile: How The Row Hit Westminster
The British prime minister is facing fresh calls to withdraw his attack on Sir Keir Starmer after the UK Labour leader was targeted by a mob near the British parliament. Photo: PA Images
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David Hughes, PA Political Editor

British prime minister Boris Johnson is under pressure to withdraw his attack on Sir Keir Starmer over the failure to prosecute Jimmy Savile.

Mr Johnson’s remarks in the British parliament last week about the UK Labour leader caused a storm even among Mr Johnson’s own backbenchers and personal advisers.


Here are the key points on the issue:

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Jimmy Savile carried out sex assaults over a six-decade period (Anna Gowthorpe/PA)

Who was Jimmy Savile?

Savile, who died in 2011, was one of the UK’s most popular television personalities with a reputation for charity fundraising.


But his public image masked a history of sexual abuse stretching across six decades, with an official investigation in 2013 identifying more than 214 offences including 34 rapes.

How does UK Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer fit into the picture?

He was England and Wales' director of public prosecutions (DPP) from 2008 to 2013, leading the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

A report published in 2013 found a chance to convict Savile for sex offences against three victims when he was alive was missed because police and prosecutors did not take the claims seriously enough.


The report by Alison Levitt QC, legal adviser to the DPP, found that “had the police and prosecutors taken a different approach” cases could have been possible in relation to three victims in 2009.

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UK Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was head of the Crown Prosecution Service (Lewis Whyld/PA)

What was Mr Starmer's role?

He played no role in the decision not to prosecute Savile, but as head of the CPS he apologised on behalf of the organisation.


“I would like to take the opportunity to apologise for the shortcomings in the part played by the CPS in these cases. If this report and my apology are to serve their full purpose, then this must be seen as a watershed moment,” he said.

Why has the row surfaced again?

Mr Johnson raised the issue in the British House of Commons as he fought to save his premiership during exchanges about the investigation into parties in No 10 during Covid-19 lockdowns.


Mr Johnson said the Labour leader was “a former director of public prosecutions — although he spent most of his time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile, as far as I can make out”.

The attack sparked a backlash from some Tory MPs, angry that Mr Johnson had levelled the kind of accusation at Mr Starmer which is popular among conspiracy theorists online.

What did Mr Johnson do next?

Under pressure from his own allies to back down, Mr Johnson said: “Let’s be absolutely clear, I’m talking not about the Leader of the Opposition’s personal record when he was DPP and I totally understand that he had nothing to do personally with those decisions.

“I was making a point about his responsibility for the organisation as a whole.”

Despite his clarification – which appears to be at odds with the words he actually used in the Commons – Mr Johnson has not withdrawn the remark.

Mr Johnson’s attempt to backtrack was not enough for his close aide Munira Mirza, who quit No 10 over his refusal to apologise for the “scurrilous” attack on Mr Starmer.

British chancellor Rishi Sunak, viewed as a potential successor to Mr Johnson, said he would not have made the comment.


So the row hasn’t gone away?

No. If anything, it has deepened after a mob targeted Mr Starmer near the British parliament on Monday, shouting “traitor” and accusing him of “protecting paedophiles”.

Former cabinet minister Julian Smith was among Tory MPs publicly calling for Mr Johnson to withdraw the Savile remark.

“It is really important for our democracy and for (Mr Starmer’s) security that the false Savile slurs made against him are withdrawn in full,” Mr Smith said.

Labour’s Kim Leadbeater, whose sister Jo Cox was murdered while she was a serving MP in Batley, said: “Words have consequences, leaders have a duty to behave responsibly, and politics is not a game.

“Our country deserves far better.”

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