Careful with the spoons

I can’t get used to this business of the police “investigating” people saying things. Last October:

Historian Dr David Starkey has said he is being investigated by police over an interview in which he made controversial comments about slavery.

The police investigate controversies? Isn’t that a tad outside their remit?

Dr Starkey made the remarks on YouTube to conservative commentator Darren Grimes, who is also being investigated.

Dr Starkey has apologised for saying in June that slavery was not genocide because “so many damn blacks” survived.

He said he did not “intend to stir up racial hatred” and would “defend myself robustly” against the allegation.

The Metropolitan Police said it was investigating “a public order offence relating to a social media video”.

Those “public order offences.” I remember the warnings at the time.

My guess (without having seen the video) is that what he said was a spoonerism: he put the “damn” in the wrong place. I’m guessing he meant to say “so damn many,” in which case damn just mean “very.” It’s only a guess, but people do make flubs of that kind in extempore speaking.

In a statement, the TV historian said: “I have apologised unreservedly for the words used and I do so again today. It was a serious error for which I have already paid a significant price. I did not, however, intend to stir up racial hatred and there was nothing about the circumstances of the broadcast which made it likely to do so.”

He said he only discovered he was under investigation on Tuesday, six days after the Met sent an email to notify him and Mr Grimes of the action, because the email had not been forwarded on to him.

Scotland Yard sent it to the Bow Group conservative think tank, of which he is vice-president, who thought it was a hoax, he said.

And why did they think it was a hoax? Could it be because it’s so ludicrous that Scotland Yard would be “investigating” such a thing?

Figures from former home secretary Sajid Javid to ex-Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron and former director of public prosecutions Lord Macdonald of River Glaven have criticised the investigation into Mr Grimes as a threat to a free media.

In a statement, the Met said: “On July 4, the Metropolitan Police Service was passed an allegation from Durham Police of a public order offence relating to a social media video posted on June 30.

“The matter was reviewed by officers and on July 29 a file was submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service for early investigative advice.

“On September 25 early investigative advice was received and officers began an investigation. This will remain under review. No arrests have been made.”

Rape isn’t prosecuted, street harassment and abuse of women isn’t prosecuted, but a spoonerism on YouTube – that’s a whole different thing.

During the original discussion, Dr Starkey said slavery “was not genocide” because “otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or Britain would there? An awful lot of them survived.”

That’s an obnoxiously flippant thing to say, no question, but obnoxious flippancy isn’t actually against the law.

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