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Michael Gove Has Defended Boris Johnson Over False Jimmy Savile Claim

Michael Gove Has Defended Boris Johnson Over False Jimmy Savile Claim
4 min read

Michael Gove does not believe that the Prime Minister should apologise for accusing Labour leader Keir Starmer of failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile – a debunked claim that is regularly shared among right-wing groups online.

On Monday Boris Johnson told the Commons that Starmer, who was previously director of public prosecutions, "used his time prosecuting journalists” and was responsible for the failure to prosecute the child sex offender Jimmy Savile.

The claim is false and has been repeatedly debunked. There is no evidence that Starmer was involved in the decision not to prosecute Savile. While Starmer was head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) when the decision not to prosecute Savile was made, he was not the lawyer responsible for the decision. The decision was based on police mishandling of evidence. Starmer later ordered in inquiry into why Savile was not prosecuted. 

“This is a uniquely sensitive issue and it does need to be handled with care,” Gove told Sky News on Wednesday morning.

“It’s not something that I want to dwell on because it is uniquely sensitive." 

Starmer has described the Johnson’s Savile jibe as “a ridiculous slur peddled by right wing trolls” and accused the Prime Minister of "debasing himself" by repeating the inaccurate claim. 

Gove said that he has “respect” for “Keir’s point of view”, however "Starmer acknowledged that mistakes had been made by the organisation of which he was head,” Gove added.

“To his credit, he was very clear about those mistakes, he brought in an independent lawyer to look at that and I think that we should recognise that in doing that he did the right thing.”

Labour MP and women's rights campaigner Jess Phillips accused Conservative MPs who "tolerate" Johnson's remark of being "complicit" in his lie. 

"I genuinely cannot contain my anger about this," the MP for Birmingham Yardley wrote on Twitter.

"Boris Johnson pretending he's sorry for his behaviour and his lies and in the same speech he lied some more to save his skin and as a shield he used children who had been raped.

"I often caveat my scrutiny on rape with a precursor that 'of course the government care about this but they must do more'. 

"Boris Johnson has proven me wrong, he doesn't care for these victims unless they are a tool for his lies and deceit. Any MP who supports him is complicit."

Johnson has doubled down on the accusation, justifying the mistruth to The Sun on Monday as part of the “cut and thrust” of Parliamentary debate.

Savile’s victims have called on Johnson to apologise.

"As one of the lawyers who represented many of Savile's victims, I can confirm that these allegations against Sir Keir Starmer are completely unfounded and unjustified,” Richard Scorer, head of abuse and public inquiries at Slater and Gordon wrote on Twitter.

"Weaponising [victims’] suffering to get out of a political hole is disgraceful," he added.

The claim that Starmer failed to prosecute Savile has previously been spread on far-right groups on social media.

Johnson has received significant backlash for the remark, including from senior MPs in his own party.

On Tuesday, Tory MP Julian Smith tweeted: “The smear made against Keir Starmer relating to Jimmy Saville yesterday is wrong and cannot be defended.

“It should be withdrawn. False and baseless personal slurs are dangerous, corrode trust and can't just be accepted as part of the cut and thrust of parliamentary debate.”

Smith’s comments were echoed by his Conservative colleague Bob Neil, who described the Prime Minister’s comments as “baseless and unworthy, even in the cut and thrust of political debate”.

“There are plenty of reasons to attack Starmer and Labour on their policies but not a false premise,” Neil said.

“Let’s at least fight out politics cleanly.”

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