Keir Starmer’s links with an intelligence chief add to his controversies as DPP
CORRECTION: This article originally stated that Keir Starmer was the UK’s director of public prosecutions (DPP). In fact, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) operates across England and Wales, not the whole of the UK. The article was corrected at 10.45am on 20 April. We have also clarified that the DPP is head of the CPS, rather than having oversight of it.
More information is emerging about Labour’s new leader Keir Starmer. Before entering politics he was the director of public prosecutions (DPP). During his tenure as DPP he made several controversial rulings.
Now new evidence has emerged linking him with an intelligence chief. And there was a shared interest between the pair in surveillance technology.
Firstly, thanks to research conducted by investigative journalist Matt Kennard we now know that Starmer met up with MI5 chief Jonathan Evans in 2013 for ‘drinks’ in his time as DPP.
In his twitter thread, Kennard suggests that a topic of that meeting may have been about the prosecution of MI5, which was accused of playing a part in a torture case. That case concerned Binyamin Mohamed, who was kidnapped, renditioned, and tortured by the CIA with alleged complicity in his interrogation by an MI5 officer, known simply as ‘Witness B’.
According to the Rendition Project, “Flight data and associated documentation demonstrate that Mohamed [was] transferred on board the CIA-owned Gulfstream V jet with registration number N379P” and renditioned from Pakistan to Morocco.
In February 2010, Evans criticised the media’s account of what happened with Mohamed. Later that year Starmer decided not to prosecute MI5 and Evans commented:
I am delighted that after a thorough police investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service has concluded that Witness B has no case to answer in respect of his interviewing of Mr Binyam Mohammed.
But blogger Andy Worthington observed:
Lord Neuberger apparently indicated that he did not believe that he [the MI5 officer] was acting alone and that he believed that his conduct was “characteristic of the service as a whole,” and also noted that MI5’s culture of suppression “penetrates the service to such a degree” that, as the Guardian explained, “it undermines any government assurance based upon information that comes from MI5 itself.”
In response to Starmer’s decision, Reprieve director Clive Stafford Smith commented:
the main focus of all this should not be the rank and file, but those who were signing off the torture policy at the top. In that sense, there remain very real questions for Tony Blair, Jack Straw, and David Miliband, who were in power when these dreadful abuses took place.
However, there was another shared interest between Evans and Starmer. Mass cyber surveillance in the UK is now accepted as the norm. But the legal measures necessary for that surveillance to become law saw an alliance of sorts between the two.
Early in 2009, some months after his appointment as DPP, Starmer argued the case for a ‘superdatabase’.
The Guardian described this superdatabase as a store for:
records of communications data – currently retained by telecoms companies – to all internet service providers to cover email and voice-over-internet use. [These] Records of the communications would be stored in a central database run by the private sector
But the initiative was lost in the turmoil of a general election, which saw Labour’s Gordon Brown ousted as prime minister, to be replaced by David Cameron in a Conservative/Liberal Democrats coalition. In time the initiative was revived as the draft Communications Data Bill. The Guardian explained how via this bill, “records will be kept of all internet use, including activity on social networking sites, as well as details of mobile phone calls and texts”.
In support of this version of the bill, Evans said:
It would be extraordinary and self-defeating if terrorists and criminals were able to adopt new technologies in order to facilitate their activities while the law enforcement and security agencies were not permitted to keep pace with those same technological change.
However, it was not until the measures were repackaged as the Investigative Powers Act, again supported by Starmer, then an MP, that the controversial bill was finally passed by Parliament to become law in 2016. At the time, Starmer said that the new legislation was “also needed because of [the revelations by former NSA whistleblower Edward] Snowden“. This comment seemed to place him somewhat in opposition to whistleblowers.
As head of the Crown Prosecution Service, Starmer was responsible for a number of controversial decisions.
For example, in 2010 he initially refused to prosecute police officer Simon Harwood, who at a G20 demonstration in London struck 47-year old Ian Tomlinson, who was not part of the protest but simply heading home. In 2011, an inquest ruled that Tomlinson had been killed unlawfully. Harwood was later acquitted of manslaughter but dismissed from the force.
Starmer also refused to prosecute police officers involved in the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes by police marksmen on a train at Stockwell Tube Station, in a case of mistaken identity.
The CPS further refused to prosecute UK government bodies (including MI6 and MI5) for their part in the abduction, rendition, and torture of three Libyan dissidents, despite incriminating evidence.
Starmer also supported the rapid prosecution of ‘rioters‘ involved in street protests.
And he brought in new guidelines that meant ‘benefit cheats’ could end up with 10 years imprisonment for fraud.
When police pre-emptively arrested 114 climate activists at a 2009 meeting to plan the shutdown of a coal-fired power station, one of those arrested was undercover police officer Mark Kennedy. Charges were subsequently brought against 26 people. 20 of these admitted participation, but said their actions were justified (the other six said they had not participated in the plan). The trial of the 20 saw all convicted of conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass, though not jailed.
However, vital evidence had been withheld, and the Guardian found that it was “the Crown Prosecution Service rather than the police that withheld the tapes [evidence]”. Their convictions were subsequently quashed.
A year later, the CPS was involved in what many see as a major cover-up. It was forced to invite another group of activists, the Drax 29, to appeal their convictions too. Confidential files and transcripts of the tapes for the Ratclliffe-on-Soar protest (extracts) and the Drax protest were subsequently published.
Starmer also argued that the criminal behaviour of Kennedy as agent provocateur and rapist was simply an individual case and was not “systemic”. But Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance (COPS) noted: “If the other 150 or so officers [identified] have similar tallies [as Kennedy], it means about 7,000 wrongful convictions are being left to stand.”
Emails show how the CPS colluded closely with their Swedish counterparts in pursuit of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. For example, when Swedish lawyers demonstrated reluctance to keep the case open against Assange, the CPS responded “Don’t you dare get cold feet”.
The full CPS file on Assange is estimated to contain between 7,200 and 9,600 pages. However, the CPS admitted it destroyed many of the key emails.
All in all, Starmer has had a remarkable career as a human rights lawyer and perhaps his most high profile case was the McLibel Two.
But Starmer’s 2020 Labour leadership video, which highlighted that and similar successes, failed to mention his other, politically very different cases. Indeed, it’s not clear where Starmer’s true politics lie. Though his spell as DPP suggests something very different to, for example, that of the previous Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn; and perhaps closer to that of former Labour prime minister Tony Blair.
Meanwhile, Starmer’s early role in supporting legislation for mass cyber surveillance reverberates to this day.
Featured image via Youtube
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