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David Starkey is indefensible but so is the BBC slander of Darren Grimes

Tom Winnifrith
Friday 3 July 2020

I had a brush with the celebrity historian David Starkey about fifteen years ago when he used his celebrity status to bully, humiliate and put down my daughter’s godmother as we ate in an Islington restaurant. He picked on her for no reason as she read Olaf a story, not too loudly, saying at a high enough volume for every diner to hear “Will you just be quiet? Some of us are trying to eat.”  Maybe the American accent grated with Starkey’s patrician senses.

My five-year old daughter, her godmother and godfather and I were silenced. Everyone else in the place was stunned. Starkey continued talking loudly to his young companion. You can’t argue with a celebrity.  I came to the conclusion that he was a rather nasty piece of work and I have held firm to that view ever since.

Earlier this week, he spoke again in a video interview with another young man, Darren Grimes, a brave lad from the Northeast bullied back home for being gay, as well as a Tory and who came to fame when the Electoral Commission wrongly persecuted him for his Brexit campaigning. Vindicated, at last, after an awful ordeal, young Darren has launched a new platform, ReasonedUK, where, inter alia, he said in an interview with Pink News that his site “seeks to be a space for those falsely and unfairly accused of being racist, homophobic and transphobic. E.g. believing in biological sex is ‘transphobic’.”

Starkey was interviewed by Grimes and made comments about black folks which are indefensible, not that I wish to defend him as an individual, from anything, given that incident 15 years ago. Starkey will lose a post at Cambridge and his TV days are over. He will be depersoned. Grimes, rather tardily, stated that he disapproved of what Starkey had said. 

BBC Radio 4’s Today programme came to report on the episode. Reporter Rajini Vaidyanathan served up a report which strayed well away from the Charter rules about showing editorial impartiality. But worse, it was slanderous.

Rajini said that “right winger” Grimes “describes his website as a safe space for racist and homophobic views.” Of course he does not.

That is pure fiction. Nowhere has he ever stated that. As such, the comment is clearly slanderous. Natch, at once a raft of other BBC journalists rushed to retweet links to the show endorsing Rajini’s brave reporting. Those tweets too should also be deemed slanderous as they are a repeat of the slander.

Simply complaining to OFCOM about this shoddy and defamatory reporting will, I am sure, get a result, since the BBC has no defence. But the BBC will regard another slap on the wrists for its appalling journalism as a simple cost of doing business. No careers will be damaged.

I have thus urged Grimes to take legal action, starting with a letter before action demanding a full and agreed apology at the top of the programme, costs, and a large donation to Toby Young’s Free Speech Union by way of damages. That action should not just be against the BBC, but also against the reporter, show producer who will have approved the script, and against those other BBC journalists retweeting and endorsing the slander.

This is such an open goal. It is a rare opportunity to root out the cancer of bent BBC journalism by going after a large number of individual journalists who can have no defence at all. If they feel real financial and career pain, that might encourage others within Pravda to mend their ways. 

The case for defunding the BBC grows stronger by the day.

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
[email protected]
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