No evidence Keir Starmer tried to block the prosecution of Muslim grooming gangs

28 July 2022
What was claimed

In 2004, as director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer told police not to prosecute “Muslim rape gangs” to prevent Islamophobia.

Our verdict

Keir Starmer became head of the Crown Prosecution Service in 2008. Although he later admitted that victims of grooming gangs had faced a “lack of understanding” during his time in charge, we can find no evidence he tried to block prosecutions due to concerns over Islamophobia.

What was claimed

Keir Starmer promoted an MP who suggested children keep quiet about being raped for the sake of “diversity”.

Our verdict

The Labour MP in question, Naz Shah, retweeted a post from a parody account which made this comment. She rapidly deleted the retweet and apologised, saying it was an accident. Ms Shah was already on Labour’s front bench when Mr Starmer became leader, and is still a shadow minister.

Two Facebook posts claim the leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer, told police when he was working for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) not to pursue cases against Muslim men accused of rape due to fears it would stir up anti-Islamic sentiment. 

The posts originally appeared in April and May 2020, but have recently seen a resurgence online with hundreds of new shares. They say: “From 2004 onwards the director of public prosecutions told the police not to prosecute Muslim rape gangs to prevent ‘Islamophobia’.

“That director was Keir Starmer, now the leader of the Labour party, who just promoted Naz Shah to his front bench, the Pakistani Muslim who thinks English children should keep quiet about being raped for the sake of ‘diversity’.”

We presume the posts meant to say that the director of public prosecutions “told” the CPS, rather than the police, who do not prosecute cases. The police investigate and pass their evidence on to the CPS which then decides whether to prosecute. Even so, we cannot find any evidence to support the claim about Mr Starmer blocking the prosecution of Muslims.

The claim about the promotion of Ms Shah is also misleading. It appears to refer to Ms Shah retweeting a post from a parody account. She apologised and rapidly deleted the retweet, which she said was an accident. 

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What went wrong with ‘grooming gang’ cases?

Concerns about the abuse of underage girls by members of minority communities in towns in Yorkshire, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and some Midlands counties first surfaced in 2002, when they were raised by the then-Labour MP for Keighley, Ann Cryer. 

Subsequent reports and investigations confirmed that some people believed “a fear of being labelled ‘racist’ had hindered the ability of official agencies to combat the grooming and sexual exploitation”.

However, Mr Starmer did not become director of public prosecutions and head of the CPS until 1 November 2008, four years later than the Facebook posts suggest, and we can find no evidence that he intervened in prosecutions against Muslim men accused of rape, or gave instructions that they should not be pursued, with the aim of reducing anti-Islamic sentiment.

What happened while Mr Starmer was in charge?

A number of prosecutions involving grooming gangs were taking place around the time Mr Starmer took up his new post.

In the first of a series of articles exposing the grooming gangs scandal, published in January 2011, The Times identified 17 grooming gang prosecutions dating back to 1997. Of the 17 cases, 14 had taken place since 2008, the year Mr Starmer became the director of public prosecutions.

“In total, 56 people, with an average age of 28, were found guilty of crimes including rape, child abduction, indecent assault and sex with a child. Three of the 56 were white, 53 were Asian. Of those 50 were Muslim and a majority were members of the British Pakistani community,” the newspaper reported. 

The Rochdale case

Mr Starmer was the head of the CPS in 2009, when a key decision not to prosecute a case in Rochdale was taken. However, we can find no evidence he had any personal involvement in the decision, or that it was due to concern about Islamophobia. 

According to evidence given to the Home Affairs Committee, the decision was based on CPS guidelines of the time which suggested a jury might see victims as unreliable if they had come forward some time after the offence, if they had deviated or changed their accounts, made use of drink or drugs or had subsequently gone back to the perpetrator. As a result, such cases were thought not to have a realistic prospect of achieving a conviction. 

In 2011, Nazir Afzal, who at the time was director of prosecutions in London, was made chief prosecutor for the north west. He subsequently overturned the 2009 decision and a total of nine men were later convicted. 

In a recent interview Mr Afzal recalled: “The only way we could bring that case was to admit that we had failed these victims when they had first made a complaint in 2008. Keir was 100% behind the decision to publicly admit that we had got it wrong in the past.”

Following these convictions, Mr Starmer appointed Mr Afzal as the head of a newly formed national network of specialist prosecutors for child abuse and sexual exploitation. Mr Afzal went on to oversee numerous convictions against other grooming gangs. 

In 2012, Mr Starmer said that while race had been a consideration, the failure of the CPS to prosecute such cases was down to the guidelines in place. He told The Times: “In a number of cases presented to us, particularly in cases involving groups, there’s clearly an issue of ethnicity that has to be understood and addressed. As prosecutors we shouldn’t shy away from that. But if we’re honest, it’s the approach to the victims, the credibility issue, that caused these cases not to be prosecuted in the past. There was a lack of understanding.”

An independent report into child sexual abuse in Rotherham, published in 2014, noted that prior to leaving the CPS, Mr Starmer had established a new set of guidelines around the prosecution of child sexual exploitation to prevent earlier mistakes from being repeated.

Naz Shah

The post also says that, as Labour leader, Mr Starmer appointed to his front bench an MP who opposed the victims of grooming speaking out. 

In August 2017, Naz Shah, who represents Bradford West, shared and liked a post tweeted out from a parody Twitter account.

It said: “Those abused girls in Rotherham and elsewhere just need to shut their mouths. For the good of diversity.”

At the time, a spokesperson for Ms Shah said that retweeting and liking the post “was a genuine accident” that was “rectified within minutes”, adding: “[Naz] has and will continue to advocate for all victims, and work towards eradicating this evil from society.”

In April 2020, shortly after Keir Starmer became leader of the Labour Party, Ms Shah was appointed Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion. Whether this means she was “promoted” is a matter of opinion though, as she was already a member of Labour’s front bench, having been appointed shadow equalities minister in 2018. She is now a shadow minister for the Home Office.

Full Fact has approached Mr Starmer for comment. 

Image courtesy of UK Parliament

 

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