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Factbox - Who was Jimmy Savile and what did PM Johnson claim about Labour leader?

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By Reuters
Factbox-Who was Jimmy Savile and what did PM Johnson claim about Labour leader?
Factbox-Who was Jimmy Savile and what did PM Johnson claim about Labour leader?   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2022

LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing demands to withdraw remarks he made about Keir Starmer after he falsely accused the opposition Labour leader of failing to prosecute late sex offender Jimmy Savile.

Protesters mobbed Starmer near parliament on Monday, with some shouting Savile’s name at him.

Johnson made his comments last month while he was being questioned by Starmer over an official report into parties at the prime minister’s residence and office during lockdown. Starmer called on Johnson to resign and Johnson, whose leadership is under threat, hit back.

Here are details on the row.

WHOWASJIMMYSAVILE?

Savile was one of Britain’s biggest TV stars in the 1970s and 1980s, and he was knighted by then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He was revealed to be the country’s worst ever sex offender following his death in 2011, aged 84.

A police-led report found he had sexually assaulted hundreds of victims, mainly children, over six decades of abuse including rapes and even at a hospice treating terminally ill patients. The youngest victim was aged eight.

WHY IS STARMERLINKED?

Starmer was the Director of Public Prosecutions in 2007 and 2008 when police carried out investigations into Savile while he was still alive.

The Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute Savile and after his death Starmer ordered an inquiry into the CPS involvement.

The inquiry found, while Savile might have been prosecuted if police and the CPS had taken a different approach, there was no improper motive for the decision not to prosecute. It made no reference to Starmer having any involvement in that decision. Starmer later apologised for the CPS’s failings.

JOHNSON’S SMEAR

On Jan. 31, as Johnson faced angry lawmakers in parliament following the publication of a critical report by into alcohol-fuelled parties at Downing Street during coronavirus lockdowns, he raised the link between Savile and Starmer after the Labour leader called for his resignation.

Johnson said: “… That is because the report does absolutely nothing to substantiate the tissue of nonsense that he has just spoken — absolutely nothing.

“Instead, this Leader of the Opposition, a former Director of Public Prosecutions — although he spent most of his time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile, as far as I can make out — chose to use this moment continually to prejudge a police inquiry.”

STARMERRESPONSE

The Savile barb provoked anger not only from opposition lawmakers but also from members of Johnson’s own Conservative Party who said he should withdraw the remark and apologise.

Starmer said the accusation was a slur peddled by right-wing trolls, a reference to the accusation having previously appeared on some social media sites along with the allegation he had protected paedophiles as DPP.

In parliament, he accused Johnson of “parroting the conspiracy theories of violent fascists”.

Johnson declined to apologise and said: “I am informed that in 2013 he apologised and took full responsibility for what had happened on his watch, and I think that was the right thing to do.”

CLARIFICATION

On Feb. 3 as he continued to face questions about the issue, Johnson told an interviewer he wanted to “clarify” his remarks.

“I want to be very clear about this because a lot of people have got very hot under the collar and I understand why.

“Let’s be absolutely clear. I’m talking not about the Leader of the Opposition’s personal record when he was DPP and I totally understand that he had nothing to do personally with those decisions,” Johnson said.

“I was making a point about his responsibility for the organisation as a whole and I think people can see that and I just I really do want to clarify that because it is it is important.”

His clarification failed to satisfy opponents or critics in his own party. Munira Mirza, his head of policy and one of his closest aides, quit her post saying the remarks were a “scurrilous accusation” and “an inappropriate and partisan reference to a horrendous case of child sex abuse”.

Finance minister Rishi Sunak said: “I wouldn’t have said it, and I am glad the prime minister clarified what he said.”

STARMERHOUNDED

On Monday, Starmer was hounded by a group of anti-vaccination protesters as he walked near parliament, some of whom shouted references to Savile and the slur that he had protected paedophiles.

Johnson called what happened “absolutely disgraceful”. But Labour politicians and about 10 Conservative lawmakers linked the incident to his earlier remarks.

“Let’s stop this drift towards a Trumpian style of politics from becoming the norm. We are better than this,” Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative chairman of parliament’s defence committee, said.