Why is Boris Johnson making false claims about Starmer and Savile?

How and why the rumour emerged, the facts of the case, and why the PM is talking about it

The Savile row: your questions answered about Boris Johnson’s false claims that Keir Starmer failed to prosecute sex offender Jimmy Savile.

When did the allegations that Starmer was responsible for failing to prosecute Savile first surface?

Speculation began circulating online in 2020 that Starmer had a role in the decision not to prosecute the TV and radio presenter before his death in 2011.

Why did the rumour emerge?

Shortly after Savile’s death, hundreds of his victims said he had abused them in hospitals, schools and on the sets of BBC programmes.

Police on several occasions had investigated abuse claims against Savile while he was alive, and he was interviewed under caution in 2009 by Surrey police but no arrest was made.

Starmer, the current Labour party leader, was the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and head of the CPS from 2008 until 2013.

This has prompted claims online, particularly among far-right activists and so-called “paedophile hunters”, that Starmer had a role in a decision not to prosecute.

Keir Starmerduring PMQs
Keir Starmer criticised Johnson for his remarks during PMQs Photograph: Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament/EPA

Why is this in the news now?

Amid calls for his resignation over “partygate” claims, Johnson said on Monday that Starmer “used his time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile”.

After facing criticism for his comments from lawyers representing Savile’s victims, the Speaker of the House Lindsay Hoyle, and several senior Conservatives, Johnson on Wednesday doubled down on his claims.

The prime minister refused to withdraw the comments and told MPs: “I am informed that in 2013 the right honourable gentleman apologised and took full responsibility for what had happened on his watch.”

Is there any evidence that Starmer was involved in any decision not to prosecute Savile?


The CPS has confirmed that there is no reference to any involvement from Starmer in the decision-making within an official report examining the case.

Surrey police consulted the CPS for advice about the allegations after interviewing Savile’s victims, according to a 2013 CPS statement made by Starmer as DPP.

The official report, written by Alison Levitt QC, found that in October 2009 the CPS lawyer responsible for the cases – who was not Starmer – advised that no prosecution could be brought on the grounds that none of the complainants were “prepared to support any police action”.

Levitt said in the report that Savile might have been prosecuted if the police and prosecutors had taken a different approach.

Why did Johnson tell the Commons that Starmer apologised and took responsibility for the failure to prosecute Savile?

After the publication of the Levitt report in 2013 Starmer apologised for the CPS’ shortcomings, not his own.

Starmer said: “I would like to take the opportunity to apologise for the shortcomings in the part played by the CPS in these cases.

“These were errors of judgment by experienced and committed police officers and a prosecuting lawyer acting in good faith and attempting to apply the correct principles. That makes the findings of Ms Levitt’s report more profound and calls for a more robust response.”

Is the row over Savile part of a “dead cat strategy” by No 10 to deflect from the allegations that Johnson broke the law and failed to abide by lockdown rules?

There is no hard evidence as yet that the Tories are “dead-catting” – introducing a shocking or sensationalist topic to divert discourse away from a more damaging topic.

But Lynton Crosby, the Australian political strategist nicknamed the Wizard of Oz, has been hired to advise Johnson during the current crisis, the prime minister told Tory MPs on Monday.

Johnson has previously praised an unnamed Australian political strategist – widely thought to be Crosby – for suggesting the tactic when losing an argument.

“The facts are overwhelmingly against you, and the more people focus on the reality the worse it is for you and your case. Your best bet in these circumstances is to perform a manoeuvre that a great campaigner describes as ‘throwing a dead cat on the table, mate’,” Johnson wrote in a Telegraph column in 2013.

“That is because there is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant.

“The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’; in other words they will be talking about the dead cat, the thing you want them to talk about, and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”


Rajeev Syal

The GuardianTramp

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