Three Conservative MPs have been reprimanded for sharing a misleading video of Keir Starmer from a “far-right” Twitter account.
Edited footage showing the Labour leader discussing grooming gangs was posted on Twitter on Thursday by health minister Nadine Dorries, assistant government whip Maria Caulfield and Lucy Allan.
A spokesperson for Downing Street said: “The MPs involved have been spoken to by the whips’ office and reminded of their responsibility to check the validity of information before they post on social media.”
Ms Dorries and Ms Allan, the MP for Telford, had already deleted their posts amid a deluge of criticism, while Ms Caulfield’s Twitter account was taken offline during the furore.
The account responsible for the original post – which had thousands of shares – also disappeared. The video was viewed more than 239,000 times before the @NJamesWorld account was suspended.
The footage, dating from Sir Keir’s time as director of public prosecutions in 2013, showed him announcing new guidelines on charging grooming gangs.
But it had been edited to remove the start of the interview where he was asked to give examples of the “wrong approach”, making him appear to justify failure to believe child victims.
The shortened clip was posted by a Twitter account that frequently shares posts on far-right topics and conspiracy theories.
Ms Dorries shared the tweet on Thursday morning with the caption “revealing”, while Ms Allan wrote that it suggested “a dismissive attitude towards CSE [child sexual exploitation] victims and a belief that the victims brought it on themselves”.
Ms Caulfield, the MP for Lewes, shared the video with the caption: “True face of the Labour leader, shameful.”
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “This is a doctored video tweeted by far-right social media account. We hope that any Conservative politicians sharing the video acknowledge this and take it down.”
The government has issued repeated warnings about online disinformation during the coronavirus pandemic.
The official “share checklist” advises people to watch out for misleading videos, adding: “When shared, false information can take on a life of its own and have some serious consequences. It can lead to health scares, false accusations and potentially damaging hoax stories.”
The controversy came after Sir Keir garnered favourable reviews for his questioning of Boris Johnson over the government’s handling of coronavirus, in his first prime minister’s questions.
A headline in the conservative Daily Telegraph read: “Keir Starmer took Boris Johnson apart like a Duplo train set”.
Sir Keir was the director of public prosecutions from 2008 to 2013, when the scale of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, Rochdale and other areas became publicly known.
He ordered a restructuring of how the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) dealt with grooming gang cases and admitted that victims had been failed.
In an interview with Channel 5 News in June 2013, he announced new guidelines, which he said recognised “that the approach that has been taken in the past was the wrong approach”.
He saw previous guidance “was based on a number of assumptions which don’t withstand scrutiny”, adding: “The guidelines change that and they require the police and prosecutors to focus intensely on the allegation actually being made and not so much on the weaknesses or vulnerabilities that are invariably there in some of the victims who come forward.”
He was then asked by the interviewer to give examples of what the wrong approach was.
In his response, which was isolated in the video shared by Ms Dorries and others, he said the wrong approach “included the assumption that a victim of child sexual abuse will swiftly report what happened to them to police, will be able to give a coherent and consistent account first time, that they will not themselves have engaged in any offending or other behaviour and that they will not have misused drugs or alcohol at any stage”.
The video was cut before the end of Sir Keir’s comment, where he continued: “Those assumptions do not withstand scrutiny. They’ve got to change, the guidelines make that clear and so this is a clear break with the past.”
The guidelines made important changes to how the credibility of complainants was considered, meaning that “bad behaviour”, previous convictions and drug and alcohol abuse could not be used to dismiss their allegations.
Nazir Afzal, a former chief prosecutor who initiated charges against a grooming gang in Rochdale, said the video’s suggestion that Sir Keir did not take child sexual abuse seriously was wrong.
He wrote on Twitter: “I can assure you that he and I put right the failings of a generation of those who should have safeguarded children. He inherited failure and left success.”
The controversy came after footage of Sir Keir joining Thursday’s Clap for Carers tribute outside his home was misused to accuse him of “clapping for the cameras”.
He was criticised for asking a cameraman whether he had got “what he needed”, but the man later revealed Sir Keir was checking whether he could move out of shot to get his daughter from across the road.