MPs have blasted the Metropolitan Police’s decision to probe Brexiteer Darren Grimes for allegedly stirring up racial hatred after interviewing TV historian David Starkey.
Grimes, 27, is to be interviewed by Scotland Yard under caution at a police station after interviewing Dr Starkey on his Reasoned UK YouTube channel on June 30.
The 75-year-old historian provoked widespead fury at the peak of the Black Lives Matter protests by commenting: ‘Slavery was not genocide, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain, would there?’
In the ensuing furore, he resigned from his fellowship at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, and lost a book deal with HarperCollins.
Dr Starkey later said his remark was a ‘bad mistake’, adding: ‘I am very sorry for it and I apologise unreservedly for the offence it caused.’
Mr Grimes – who came to prominence as a pro-Brexit campaigner – also issued an apology, saying he should have ‘robustly questioned’ the historian about the comments.
Now he is accused of the public order offence of stirring up racial hatred. The maximum penalty is seven years in prison. It is understood that Dr Starkey has not been contacted by police.
However, the Met Police have come under fire for its decision to investigate Grimes, with former Home Secretary Sajid Javid calling the decision ‘plainly absurd’.
Brexiteer Darren Grimes, pictured, is to be questioned under caution by the Metropolitan Police over an interview he conducted on a YouTube channel
However, the Met Police have come under fire for its decision to investigate Grimes, with Tory backbencher Sajid Javid calling the decision ‘plainly absurd’
Ben Bradley, Conservative MP for Mansfield, angrily tweeted: ‘God save the world when people being offended makes something a criminal offence!!’
Tim Farron, the former Lib Dem leader, added: ‘There might be more than meets the eye here, but on the face of it this is completely ridiculous’
Mr Javid tweeted: ‘David Starkey’s comments were appalling. But, the idea that it’s appropriate to go after journalists for the remarks of their interviewees is plainly absurd.
‘For the sake of our cherished free press, I hope @metpoliceuk reconsider.’
He was followed by Ben Bradley, Conservative MP for Mansfield, who angrily said: ‘God save the world when people being offended makes something a criminal offence!!
‘In this case Darren’s ‘crime’ according to accusers is not predicting that his interviewee would say something offensive. Investigated for being in the vicinity of someone else’s thoughtcrime’.
Tim Farron, the former Lib Dem leader, added: ‘There might be more than meets the eye here, but on the face of it this is completely ridiculous.
‘Grimes is not responsible for Starkey’s appalling comments. In a free society, we surely don’t do things like this?’
Douglas Murray, author and editor of The Spectator magazine, said: This is not the behaviour of a police force in a free society.
‘Hauling someone into a police station for something someone said to them in an interview? Shame on the @metpolice uk.’
Reacting to the investigation, Mr Grimes said: ‘At a time when many in our country are facing uncertainty and financial hardship, I cannot imagine a more contemptible way for the Metropolitan Police to abuse taxpayers’ money and the trust of citizens than by investigating the vexatious claim.’
He added that the threat of arrest if he does not attend the ‘voluntary’ interview has ‘serious repercussions for freedom of expression’.
Speaking to MailOnline, Toby Young, general secretary of the Free Speech Union, said: ‘Almost everyone has rightly condemned this grotesque assault on the freedom of the press, including an ex-Home Secretary.
‘I hope the Met recognises that it’s made a silly mistake and drops this investigation immediately.
Grimes interviewed Prof David Starkey, pictured, who later apologised for the offence caused by his remarks on the YouTube channel
‘In a free country, journalists shouldn’t be threatened with arrest because someone they’ve interviewed has said something offensive.’
A statement on the Free Speech Union website said: ‘To accuse Mr Grimes of stirring up racial hatred is absurd. The only hatred Dr Starkey stirred up was against himself.’
Mr Young said Mr Grimes would never have apologised ‘if he had intended to stir up racial hatred in the course of a broadcast only days earlier’.
He asked if journalists would now face police action over the comments made by those they were interviewing. Such action would have ‘a chilling effect on free speech, which is the lifeblood of democracy’.
Mr Grimes founded BeLeave, a pro-Brexit group aimed at younger voters during the 2016 referendum campaign.
Last year he succeeded in overturning a £20,000 fine handed out by the Electoral Commission over spending offences. He was also the deputy editor of political website BrexitCentral until 2018.
The Met investigation comes after a complaint was made to Durham Police. Mr Grimes lives in London.
A Scotland Yard spokesman said: ‘On July 4, the Metropolitan Police Service was passed an allegation from Durham Police of a public order offence relating to a social media video posted on June 30. The matter is being investigated. No arrests.’