As reported by Claire Meadows on the Society of Editors website:
The Society’s comments come after it was reported on Friday (9 October 2020) that Grimes has been asked to attend a police station to be interviewed under caution to respond to accusations of stirring up racial hatred after publishing a podcast in which Dr Starkey said slavery was not genocide because there are “so many damn blacks”.
The Society has expressed unease at the investigation into Grimes and warned about a “chilling effect” on journalists if they are sought to be held accountable for the remarks of their interviewees.
Dr Starkey made the comments on Mr Grimes’s Reasoned UK YouTube channel on June 30 – at the peak of the Black Lives Matter protests. Starkey’s comments were met with a furious backlash at the time and he later apologised for his ‘bad mistake’. He is also under investigation by the police.
Ian Murray, Executive Director of the Society of Editors said: “The investigation into Darren Grimes is obviously a procedural matter for the police, however the Society is deeply concerned by the threat such an investigation poses to free speech and the chilling effect it could have on the media’s ability to interview controversial figures.
“While it is right that journalists have a responsibility to robustly question comments that may be considered inaccurate or deeply offensive, it is wrong that the police should seek to hold a journalist accountable for the remarks of another.”
Grimes has previously said that Reasoned UK did not support nor condone Starkey’s comments and that he should have ‘robustly questioned’ the historian about his controversial remarks. Speaking to The Daily Telegraph after it was reported that he would face investigation for the interview, Grimes described Scotland Yard’s decision as one with ‘serious repercussions for freedom of expression’.
He told the paper: “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 this vexatious claim.”
Scotland Yard’s decision to investigate Grimes was also criticised by Home Secretary Priti Patel this weekend and former Home Secretary Sajid Javid who both expressed concerns about the investigation’s effect on freedom of speech.
Writing on Twitter, Home Secretary Priti Patel said: ‘Decisions of the police to investigate particular cases are clearly an operational matter… but as a general principle, it’s important the law protects freedom of speech.’
Former Home Secretary Sajid Javid also wrote on Twitter: ‘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 the Metropolitan Police reconsider.’