OPINION: It is fair to scrutinise Keir Starmer's time leading CPS

Keir Starmer visits local businesses in Ipswich Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Sir Keir Starmer on a previous visit to Ipswich - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

I think we are all proud to live in a country where accountability of politicians is the norm.

However, accosting politicians in the streets is not something we should be proud of. The intimidation and threatening behaviour displayed this week by protestors towards Keir Starmer was unacceptable. Whatever our political differences, no one in public life should have to put up with that. 

However, I do think the ability to hold key political figures accountable is an absolutely essential part of our democracy. Keir Starmer should not be an exception to this. He is a candidate to be Prime Minister, and he was also Director of Public Prosecutions at the Crown Prosecution Service for a 5-year period.

During Keir Starmer’s tenure at the CPS, the organisation performed pretty poorly on some key issues. One of these was the failure to prosecute Jimmy Savile, which the Prime Minister referenced in the Chamber.

As well as the errors and oversights on the Savile case, the organisation also failed on other aspects while Starmer was at the helm – namely in not going after grooming gangs, and instead pursuing journalists.  

In 2012, an inquiry found Starmer was not personally to blame for the failure to prosecute Savile.

I think it is clear that he was not directly involved in every aspect and detail of every case the CPS dealt with during his tenure, but as the Director of Public Prosecutions, Starmer should take overall responsibility for the achievements and shortcomings of the CPS.

Most Read

So, while he was not directly involved in decisions on whether allegations against Savile were pursued, he did have overarching authority and should take responsibility for the decisions made – ultimately this is why he apologised in 2012.

The distinction is not about whether he was personally involved in the decision, but where the responsibility should lie – much like in the question of where responsibility lies for decisions in Downing Street. 

During Starmer’s tenure, the CPS started investigating about 30 journalists – when the operation concluded, after Starmer had left his post, no convictions had been achieved. Last week, the Prime Minister alluded to this multi-million-pound operation, Operation Elveden, which launched in 2011 while Starmer was in charge.

This investigation into journalists cost the public purse £14.7 million, and was described as a ‘fiasco’ by the Society of Editors. 

So it seems the Prime Minister’s comment that the CPS wasted time pursuing journalists during Starmer’s five years in charge is a credible one.

Not only did Starmer oversee the CPS spending time and money in investigating journalists, but under his leadership the organisation also let down women and victims of sexual crime.

Police and prosecutors failed to follow up on victim testimonies against grooming gangs: in 2013, the BBC reported that failures by the CPS had resulted in ‘missed prosecution opportunities’.

The failings of the police and the CPS to pursue grooming gangs during Starmer’s tenure seem to show serious oversights. Indeed, in 2012, Starmer apologised to the generation of girls which were ‘betrayed’ and let down, ordering a total restructuring of how the CPS responds to cases involving grooming.

It’s a key aspect of leadership and accountability that the person at the head of an organisation has questions to answer when it comes to serious errors within that organisation.

Just as it is right that the Prime Minister responds to allegations about mishandling of Downing Street affairs by taking responsibility, it is also right that Starmer takes responsibility for the organisation he was heading up – and the failures that occurred during that time.

The performance of the CPS during his tenure ultimately reflects on his leadership, and is a basis for drawing conclusions about Starmer’s leadership abilities. Unfortunately, we have seen that these conclusions are not positive. 

While I think the Prime Minister could have chosen his words more carefully, I think that at the end of the day it is reasonable to raise questions about Keir Starmer’s past roles. We do need to be careful with the words we use. 

Keir Starmer seems more than happy to reference his time at the CPS when building an image of ‘respectable law-enforcer’, however seems increasingly uncomfortable with his history at CPS being dug up when it is done so in a critical light.

Let me be clear, as a candidate for Prime Minister Kier Starmer should expect very careful examination of his time heading up the Crown Prosecution Service. 

Ultimately, it is very important that we are able to look into the track record and background of prominent politicians such as prospective candidates for Prime Minister, and ask questions about their performance. Keir Starmer should be no exception to this criticism. 

- Tom Hunt is the Conservative MP for Ipswich