Keir Starmer, the Daily Mail and Durham PoliceHow Boris Johnson Uses the Press to Smear his Political Opponents
Durham Police has confirmed to Byline Times that reports of the force re-examining allegations against the Labour Leader are untrue – so what is the Mail’s real motive?
Receive our Behind the Headlines email and we’ll post a free copy of Byline Times
The coverage of allegations that Keir Starmer broke Coronavirus lockdown rules is a prime example of how Boris Johnson uses his supporters in the media to spread false and misleading claims about his political opponents.
The substance of the allegations come from an old video of the Labour Party Leader drinking a beer in April 2021, which his opponents suggest shows that he broke the law. However, when Durham Police examined the allegations earlier this year, they found that there was no case to answer.
Not discouraged by this fact, Conservative MP Richard Holden last week submitted a Freedom of Information request to the force, asking them to look again. Deputy Chief Constable Ciaron Irvine replied that he would respond to Holden’s request after talking to his colleagues.
This was quickly portrayed by GB News and others as Durham Police ‘re-examining’ the case.
However, when Byline Times explicitly asked Durham Police whether the force was “re-examining” the allegations, a spokesperson said that this was “not the case” and suggested that the reply to Holden was a “courtesy”.
In a full statement, the force said: “Durham Police were sent a letter by Richard Holden MP on April 21. As a courtesy we have replied to Mr Holden to confirm we have received his letter and will consider its contents before responding in due course.”
For most news organisations this brought an end to the matter. However, the Daily Mail has today splashed on the story claiming that Durham Police are conducting a fresh “review” of the allegations – something the force had denied to Byline Times.
More worryingly, the Mail‘s story also altered the contents of the letter in a way that changed the inferred meaning of the Deputy Chief Constable’s words.
In the original letter, Irvine had told Holden that he would make “enquiries” with the investigation team about his letter. However, in two stories published on the Mail‘s website, this had been changed to suggest that Irvine had said that he would make “inquiries” with the investigations team.
This may seem like a subtle difference, and there is no evidence that the words were deliberately changed by the Mail in order to mislead readers. However, it is worth pointing out that the term ‘enquiries’ normally refers to informal requests for information, whereas ‘inquiries’ normally refers to a formal investigation.
The altered words therefore imply a more significant course of action by Durham Police than is actually taking place.
More widely, the basis for the Mail‘s story appears to be that, when the newspaper contacted Durham Police, “a spokesman for the force repeatedly refused to rule out a fresh probe”. However, refusing to rule out ever conducting a review of the allegations is very different from actually conducting a review of them.
The Daily Mail‘s front page will thus infer to many readers that a formal review is taking place, when it is not.
A Pattern of Dishonesty
This is not the first time that the Mail has been used by Downing Street to push dishonest claims against Boris Johnson’s opponents.
In 2019, the Mail on Sunday splashed on claims that “Downing Street has launched a major investigation into alleged links between foreign governments” and Remain-supporting MPs.
This allegation followed claims from Johnson himself that those same MPs were supporting a “surrender bill”.
The Mail on Sunday’s story would have been very serious, if true. However, a spokesman for Johnson later confirmed that no such investigation was taking place.
The newspaper also rowed behind false claims made in Parliament by the Prime Minister about links between Starmer and the failure to prosecute notorious sex offender Jimmy Savile.
In all three of these cases, the Mail and its sister paper appear to have been used by Downing Street as vessels to spread untrue and misleading claims about Johnson’s political opponents.
FEARLESS, INDEPENDENT JOURNALISM & INCREDIBLE VALUE
Receive the monthly Byline Times newspaper and support quality, investigative reporting.
Muddying the Waters
However, the Mail‘s latest story about Keir Starmer appears to be part of a wider attempt to muddy the waters around the ‘Partygate’ scandal.
If Boris Johnson and his media allies are able to convince the public that the Labour Leader is guilty of the same thing as the Prime Minister and Downing Street staffers were found to be, then it could help take the sting out of the affair.
That this is the purpose of these stories was reinforced by the inclusion by the Mail of a quote from “a senior Government source” calling on Durham Police to “take the same approach as the Met and open a criminal investigation into this event”.
However, there is no evidence within the Mail‘s story, or in Durham Police’s response, that the force has taken a different approach to London’s Metropolitan Police.
The allegations that Boris Johnson and others in Downing Street repeatedly broke lockdown laws are supported by photographic evidence, multiple witness statements and public statements by the Prime Minister himself. The only substantial evidence against Keir Starmer is a video of him drinking a bottle of beer.
Trying to draw a false equivalence between proven criminal acts by those in Downing Street and allegations that have already been dismissed by the police against Starmer is therefore deeply dishonest.