Sir Keir Starmer has said questions about his role as the director of public prosecutions (DPP) during the wrongful conviction of Andrew Malkinson should be “directed elsewhere”.
The Labour leader said Mr Malkinson – who spent 17 years in prison for a rape he did not commit before having his conviction overturned – had been through a “real ordeal” and that there should be an inquiry to “get to the bottom of that”.
There have been questions regarding Sir Keir’s role as DPP and head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) after it emerged that DNA evidence which exonerated Mr Malkinson came to light in 2007 and was known to all the key agencies, including the CPS, in 2009.
Sir Keir was DPP from 2008 to 2013.
While Labour has said the case never crossed his desk and that Sir Keir had no personal involvement in it, his role as the head of the CPS has come under scrutiny in light of previous statements he has made.
The Labour leader told Sky News in April that he took “full responsibility for every decision of the Crown Prosecution Service when I was director of public prosecutions”.
Asked whether that meant he accepted a role “in the miscarriage of justice” regarding Mr Malkinson, Sir Keir replied: “I’ve seen the statement the Crown Prosecution Service have put out, and so far as I can see, they discharged their obligations by making sure the material in question was given to Mr Malkinson’s lawyers.
“That’s what they should have done. That’s what I understand they did – so I think the questions in this case are actually directed elsewhere.”
Mr Malkinson, 57, was found guilty of raping a woman in Greater Manchester in 2003 and the next year was jailed for life with a minimum term of seven years.
He remained in jail for another decade because he maintained his innocence.
Last month he had his conviction quashed by the Court of Appeal after DNA evidence that linked another man to the crime was produced by his defence team.
Case files obtained by Mr Malkinson as he battled to be freed – and seen by Sky News – show officers and prosecutors knew forensic testing in 2007 had identified a searchable male DNA profile on the rape victim’s clothing that did not match his.
Notes of a meeting between the Forensic Science Service, the CPS and Greater Manchester Police (GMP) in December 2009 – a year into Sir Keir’s tenure – suggest the CPS understood the possible importance of the 2007 DNA find.
CPS guidance states it must write to the body responsible for investigating possible miscarriages of justice, the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), “at the earliest opportunity about any case in which there is doubt about the safety of the conviction”.
But the case files show both the police and the CPS chose to take no further action and there is no record the CPS directly informed the CCRC.
The CPS claims Mr Malkinson’s lawyers were informed directly of the new DNA evidence.
The CCRC refused to order further forensic testing or refer the case for appeal in 2012, with the case files citing fears about costs.
Mr Malkinson’s case was described as “astonishing” by former solicitor general Lord Edward Garnier KC, who said there should be an inquiry into the “total public mess” that has unfolded following his exoneration.
Former justice secretary Robert Buckland also told Sky News that “some comment from Sir Keir would be welcome”.
“I would have thought it would be good for Sir Keir as a former senior lawyer to say something about it and to say he will co-operate with any public inquiry,” he said.
A CPS spokesperson said: “It is clear Mr Malkinson was wrongly convicted of this crime and we share the deep regret that this happened.
“Evidence of a new DNA profile found on the victim’s clothing in 2007 was not ignored. It was disclosed to the defence team representing Mr Malkinson for their consideration.
“In addition, searches of the DNA databases were conducted to identify any other possible suspects. At that time there were no matches and therefore no further investigation could be carried out.”
In light of the revelations, the CCRC has said it will review Mr Malkinson’s case.
A spokesman said the commission would be as “open as we can be within our statutory constraints” about “lessons to be learned”.
“We recognise that Mr Malkinson has had a very long journey to clear his name and it is plainly wrong that he spent 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
“We have already been in touch with Greater Manchester Police and with the Crown Prosecution Service to offer our assistance in any of their inquiries.”
The attorney general and the Home Office both declined to comment.