Think back to September when the media went into full screech mode because the Metropolitan Police threatened to use the Official Secrets Act to force the Guardian’s Amelia Hill to reveal the police source leaking stories to her about the phone hacking investigation, Operation Weeting.
At the Guardian there was outrage. Editor Alan Rusbridger started the wagon circling, declaring: “We shall resist this extraordinary demand to the utmost”. His brother-in-law and the Guardian’s own self confessed exponent of phone hacking, David Leigh, also leapt into print to rail against the “unprecedented legal attack on journalists’ sources,” while carefully trying to distract people from the fact the source was a police officer whose actions broke the law.
As always when the Guardianista comrades find themselves in the legal mire, their celebrated barrister and proxy in the assault on the Murdochs, Geoffrey Robertson QC, waded in to bemoan that it was an “attempt to get at the Guardian’s sources is not only a blatant breach of the Human Rights Act and article 10 of the convention, but it appears to involve a misapplication of the Official Secrets Act”.
The Met Police backed down shortly after. A ‘victory for press freedom’ was the way the media reported the Met’s sudden climbdown. Of course, if any of them uncovered a police officer breaking the law by leaking information from an enquiry on which he was working, they would report it gleefully as an example of disgraceful police behaviour that risked perverting the course of justice. But it seems as long as the copper’s actions are benefiting a hack, he is treated as an untouchable source to be protected at all costs.
Writing in the Daily Mail, cor blimey merchant Richard Littlejohn explained:
I’m told the Yard only backed down after the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, had a serious word in their shell-like and made it plain they would receive no backing from the CPS.
The intervention of Keir Starmer and its timing is something the media, in its own vested interest, warmly welcomed as it breathed a collective sigh of relief. Had the media not been so self serving it might have chosen to look into Starmer’s links to the Guardian, and examine if his intervention was truly impartial, or influenced by something other than a legal standpoint.
Starmer had a history of left wing political and legal activism prior to becoming Director of Public Prosecutions. When he was younger he was the editor of a magazine called Socialist Alternatives. Almost a year after becoming DPP he defended himself against this history and the wider charge of being political when interviewed by the BBC’s Martha Kearney, declaring:
These are things of 25, 30 years ago now. They’re not relevant to the work I do now. I hope that since I’ve been in office I’ve made it absolutely clear that every single decision is made absolutely independently.
So just how independent is he? This post will show Starmer was being very economical with the truth about his political activity and as such cannot be trusted to be independent. His intervention on behalf of the Guardian against the Met Police needs to be put into proper context, and the media’s bias by omission exposed.
Starmer was not only a member, but Secretary, of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers which supports a variety of hard left causes and actively opposes anything considered right of centre. That is in no way a thing of 25, 30 years ago. Starmer’s left wing activism is long standing and has never gone away. His first interview as DPP was given to, surprise surprise, the Guardian. In it Stephen Moss explained of Starmer that: “[H]he has generally been seen as a Labour supporter and doesn’t demur when I mention that perception.” Starmer was also kind enough to tell Moss that:
My background is not typical of a lawyer or a DPP. My dad was a toolmaker before he retired, so he worked in a factory all his life. My mum was a nurse, and she’s been physically disabled for years. We didn’t have much money, and they were Guardian-reading, Labour-leaning parents. That inevitably created an atmosphere where my thinking developed.
How very cosy. That same interview even saw Starmer reveal the fawning, high esteem in which he holds the Guardian, ironically on the subject of the phone hacking investigation:
Starmer also decided not to reopen the News of the World phone-tapping case following allegations made in this paper that its illegal surveillance operations went beyond its disgraced royal editor Clive Goodman, who was jailed in 2007 for plotting to intercept phone messages from members of the royal family. “I did get a review off the ground,” he says. “We looked at it and we formed the view that what was done at the time was the appropriate thing, and that it wouldn’t now be the right course to prosecute anybody.” But he does not rule out a case being brought at some point. “I keep an open mind. It might move on and develop if Guardian journalists or anybody else show us other stuff. What I don’t want to do is say, ‘We looked at that, we’re not going to look at it again.’”
Earlier in his career as a barrister, Keir Starmer had joined Doughty Street Chambers, founded and headed by one Geoffrey Robertson QC – the same chap who has doggedly pursued the Murdochs through his pieces in the Guardian, acted as counsel for the Guardian in the Neil Hamilton/Ian Greer libel case, and howled in protest against the Met’s proposed legal action to get the name of Amelia Hill’s police source. Over time Robertson promoted Starmer to be joint head of chambers at Doughty Street.
Robertson as the boss had influence over Starmer and helped to advance his career. Robertson as the joint head of chambers with Starmer arguably had an even closer bond with him.
Within days of Robertson popping up to defend the Guardian within its pages, imagine our surprise that Starmer stepped in to put an end to the Met’s idea of using the Official Secrets Act to use Hill’s notes to root out the law breaking police officer. Was this a case of Starmer listening to his former boss, mentor and colleague and following his demands to the letter, rather than letting the police test the law in court in an effort to nail a bad apple? If so it justifies the Guardian’s adoration of comrade Keir.
That would be enough to convince some people Starmer has too close an association with the Guardian to be an honest broker. But looking back there’s more. Not many people realise that in 2002 Starmer was himself paid counsel for the Guardian alongside Robertson. Starmer even wrote for the Guardian, cementing his link with the paper. If this was a couple of Bullingdon Club boys rather than Guardianista, you can imagine the howls of outrage that would have been flowing from Alan Rusbridger’s office. As the Guardian will no doubt privately attest, the socialist strategy of getting fellow travellers into the top echelons of the state is paying off.
Alan Rusbridger, speaking after the Met Police dropped its action, described their attempt to confirm Hill’s source as “sinister”. What is really sinister though is how one newspaper possibly enjoys special protection under the law as one of their favourite sons holds the senior criminal prosecutorial role in the land – and that the media turns a blind eye to a potentially serious conflict of interest, because it suits their own.