Revealed: After clearing MI5 of torture, Keir Starmer attended its chief’s leaving party

The year after Starmer protected Sir Jonathan Evans from possible prosecution over MI5’s role in CIA torture, the then senior public prosecutor went to the spymaster’s farewell drinks, paid for by MI5.

25 May 2023

Sir Keir Starmer (left), head of the Crown Prosecution Service 2008-13, and Sir Jonathan Evans, head of MI5 2007-13. (Photos: UK Parliament)

  • Starmer refused to prosecute MI5 for its role in the torture of Binyam Mohamed, which “delighted” the agency’s chief Jonathan Evans
  • Evans tells Declassified Starmer attended his MI5 leaving party the following year, but “does not now recall” if he spoke to Starmer
  • Evans could have been criminally liable if Starmer had decided to prosecute MI5
  • Declassified could find no record of any other Director of Public Prosecutions socialising with the head of MI5
  • But Starmer does not respond to Declassified’s questions about his attendance at the MI5 party
  • Starmer also attended “networking reception” for Foreign Office ministers three months before he announced his decision not to prosecute MI6, an agency overseen by those ministers

The leaving party took place on 16 April 2013 when Keir Starmer was Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the most senior public prosecutor in England and Wales.

Starmer recorded in his Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) hospitality register that he had “drinks” with “Sir Jonathon [sic] Evans KCB”. KCB stands for Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, a knighthood awarded by the British Crown of which Starmer is also a recipient.

Lord Evans, who is now a cross-party peer, told Declassified: “Your research might have revealed that I retired from MI5 on 21 April 2013. The event in Mr Starmer’s register was farewell drinks a week or so before my retirement.”

Evans added: “Mr Starmer was one among many guests. I do not now recall whether I spoke to him.”

Evans did not address Declassified’s questions about whether he had met with Starmer before or after his farewell drinks—or if a relationship persists. 

Labour leader Starmer, meanwhile, did not respond to any of Declassified’s questions about his attendance at the MI5 party.

The CPS has a different register for official meetings with external organisations suggesting Starmer saw it as a social meet-up with Evans. MI5 is not mentioned in the entry.

The fact the drinks were listed in Starmer’s hospitality register also indicates they were paid for by MI5. Starmer states that the value of the drinks bought for him is “unknown”. 

Declassified could find no record of a DPP before or after Starmer accepting hospitality – or meeting with – a MI5 chief, including upon their retirement. The CPS says it is “independent” and makes its “decisions independently of the police and government.”

Keir Starmer’s hospitality register shows he had “drinks” with then MI5 chief Sir Jonathan Evans in April 2013.

MI5 and MI6 investigated

Starmer was appointed DPP in November 2008 and served for five years. He left the CPS six months after Evans’s leaving party—and became a Labour MP at the 2015 election. 

Meanwhile, Jonathan Evans joined MI5 in 1980 at the age of 22. During the 1990s, he had various postings in Irish counter terrorism operations, before being appointed director-general in April 2007, serving for six years. 

One case which would become notorious from Evans’ time at MI5 was that of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident. 

Mohamed had been arrested in Karachi, Pakistan in April 2002 and interrogated for a week allegedly with various torture techniques. Mohamed said that as well as being questioned by his American captors, an MI5 officer, later known as Witness B, had also taken part

It was later revealed that MI5 knew he was being mistreated before an officer was sent to Karachi to question him.

Mohamed was then transported to Morocco by the CIA and again interrogated by Witness B, despite MI5 claiming it did not know his whereabouts in the north African country.

Mohamed eventually spent seven years at Guantanamo Bay, the detention facility run by the US on Cuba, before being released without charge and receiving a secret payout from the US. 

Scotland Yard began an investigation into MI5’s interrogation of Binyam Mohamed in March 2009. However, in November 2010, Starmer, as DPP, decided that there was “insufficient evidence” to indict Witness B, although investigations continued. 


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‘I am delighted’

Starmer’s decision not to prosecute MI5 was surprising: it was reported, for example, that the agency’s telegrams to the CIA demonstrated that British intelligence officers fed the US information on Mohamed when he was being tortured in Morocco.

Upon Starmer’s announcement, then MI5 chief Evans said: “I am delighted that after a thorough police investigation the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has concluded that Witness B has no case to answer in respect of his interviewing of Mr. Binyam Mohammed.”

Evans continued: “Witness B is a dedicated public servant who has worked with skill and courage over many years to keep the people of this country safe from terrorism and I regret that he has had to endure this long and difficult process.”

Evans’ relief was understandable. The CPS’s role also involved attempting to trace responsibility for Witness B’s actions further up MI5’s “chain of command” and considered “possible criminal wrongdoing”.

Clive Stafford Smith, Mohamed’s lawyer, said before Evans was cleared that he could ultimately face criminal responsibility for British complicity in the torture.

Evans wrote a newspaper article defending MI5’s actions, insisting that his staff had operated within the law. He wrote that MI5 did not carry out torture, and “nor do we collude in torture or encourage others to torture on our behalf.”

It is likely that Evans played a role in the Mohamed case as it unfolded. In September 2001 Evans had become director of international counter terrorism at MI5 and was in this position when Mohamed was snatched, tortured and rendered by the CIA, with MI5 involvement.

Evans later had to defend MI5 from accusations of a cover-up in the Mohamed case after Lord Neuberger, then President of the Court of Appeal, said there was a “culture of suppression” in the agency.


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Investigations continue

Allegations made by Mohamed against MI5, and the role of MI6, Britain’s external intelligence service, meant a “wider investigation” continued after Starmer’s 2010 decision. This included new allegations by another detainee about British involvement in torture at Bagram air base in Afghanistan.

In January 2012, however — after 30 months of investigation by the police — Starmer again decided against prosecuting anyone from MI5 for their role in torture. MI6 was also cleared. 

Starmer said at the time there was evidence showing MI5 “provided information” to the CIA about Mohamed and “supplied questions” for them “to put to Mr Mohamed while he was being detained.” 

But Starmer concluded that there was “insufficient evidence to prove to the standard required in a criminal court” that any spies provided information when they knew “there was a real or serious risk that Mr Mohamed would be exposed to ill-treatment amounting to torture.”

On the allegations against MI6 from Afghanistan, Starmer again concluded “there is insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of convicting [the MI6 officer] of any criminal offence.”

Starmer’s hospitality records also show that on 10 October 2011 – three months before he made this decision – he attended a “networking reception” for ministers from the British Foreign Office, which oversees MI6. 

The column for the value of the hospitality Starmer received from the Foreign Office is left blank. Declassified could find no record of a DPP before or after Starmer attending a similar event for British foreign ministers. 

The CPS initially told Declassified it could not provide Starmer’s full hospitality records. “In line with its retention policy, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) no longer holds records pertaining to the Gifts and Hospitality Register for financial years 2007-08 to 2010-11 as requested,” it told us.