They call him ‘Sir Softy’ on crime but Tories would have reappointed Keir Starmer as top prosecutor

Former attorney general says he ‘would definitely have’ signed Labour leader up for another term

Andrew Grice,Kate Devlin,Andy Gregory
Wednesday 21 February 2024 18:03 GMT
Boris Johnson attacks Keir Starmer for 'failing to prosecute' Jimmy Savile

The Tories have dubbed him “Sir Softy” on crime but the Conservatives would have reappointed Keir Starmer as the country’s top prosecutor, a new biography reveals.

While the future Labour leader decided to leave to become an MP instead, the revelation appears to fly in the face of Tory attacks on his record as the head of the Crown Prosecution Service.

Last year, Rishi Sunak accused Sir Keir of being “uncomfortable” tackling grooming gangs, saying: “That’s why they call him Sir Softy – soft on crime, soft on criminals.”

But a new book by journalist turned ex-Labour spin doctor Tom Baldwin suggests “his term as DPP [director of public prosecutions] was judged to be very successful by the Tory government”.

Despite controversial attempts by Conservative MP to attack Sir Keir over the prosecution of grooming gangs, Keir Starmer: The Biography notes Tory ministers signed off on a cross-party report commending the work he did on the scandals.

Keir Starmer was taken out to dinner by the then home secretary Theresa May to thank him for his tenure leading the Crown Prosecution Service, according to a new biography (Dan Kitwood/PA)

Home secretary Theresa May even took Sir Keir out to dinner to thank him for his service, the book says, while the then attorney general Dominic Grieve described the soon-to-be Labour MP as “one of the most successful directors of recent years” at his leaving party.

Although he rebuked Sir Keir at the start of his tenure of DPP for being too political, Mr Grieve – who had the Tory whip removed by Boris Johnson after voting against his Brexit deal – is quoted describing him as “highly effective and someone who always behaved with great integrity”.

Sir Keir had made clear he would not seek a second term as DPP but Mr Grieve said: “I would definitely have reappointed him, of course I would. And I don’t think anyone else in government would have had any basis for taking a contrary view.

“For them to turn around now and attempt to muckrake his time as DPP is really infantile behaviour, completely unjustified and just a load of rubbish. It won’t work and I fear attacking public servants in this way will backfire badly on the Conservative Party.”

If he becomes prime minister, the Labour leader may return Mr Grieve’s compliment by implementing measures to clean up politics he has drawn up as chair of a cross-party commission, the UK Governance Project.

Sir Keir is “looking carefully” at its proposals, which include limiting the prime minister’s power to hand out peerages and honours, a tougher ministerial code, and beefing up the advisory committee on business appointments for former ministers and civil servants.

Sunak allies told The Independent they would not be deflected from subjecting Sir Keir’s record to scrutiny. One said he made his DPP tenure “fair game” by allowing Labour to run a controversial attack ad claiming the prime minister did not think paedophiles should be jailed.

Since becoming Labour leader, the Tories have sought to attack Sir Keir’s record as DPP – while he has instead sought to use it to bolster his political credentials as being tough on crime.

Starmer is pictured as a high-flying QC outside the Royal Courts of Justice in 2006 (Family handout/Harper Collins)

Mr Sunak told the Commons last April: “He [Sir Keir] attended 21 sentencing council meetings that watered down punishments. That’s why they call him Sir Softy. Soft on crime. Soft on criminals.”

However, Tory attacks misfired when Boris Johnson blamed Sir Keir for the CPS’s failure to prosecute the paedophile and TV celebrity Jimmy Savile, even though he was not involved in the decision.

One of Mr Johnson’s advisers resigned over his failure to issue an apology over remarks about the treatment of Savile, which were criticised by Mr Sunak at the time.

The Tories are also turning their guns on Sir Keir’s work as a human rights lawyer before he became DPP, when those he represented included the now-banned Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. It was not proscribed as a terrorist organisation until last month.

A member of the shadow cabinet told The Independent that Sir Keir’s record at the DPP, such as his prosecution of terrorists, was “a huge asset” and accused the Tories of trying to divert attention from their “woeful record” on crime.

As recently as January, there were demands for Sir Keir to apologise for failing to intervene against private prosecutions brought by the Post Office against subpostmasters during the Horizon scandal, despite him not having the power to do so, according to the new book.

In the biography, Sir Keir is quoted as telling Baldwin: “I’m not saying we never made a mistake because, of course, there will be poor decisions in an organisation dealing with hundreds of thousands of cases.

“But I never took one in bad faith. I certainly don’t lie awake at night worrying they will find a file where I said, ‘Don’t prosecute him because he’s my mate or something’ because it just doesn’t exist.”

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