United Kingdom police launch investigation into leaked ambassador cables

Lester Mason
July 13, 2019

The former chancellor George Osborne has criticised Scotland Yard for encroaching on press freedom after it launched a criminal investigation into the leak of diplomatic dispatches sent by Britain's USA ambassador Sir Kim Darroch.

In a highly unusual move, he also warned the media that they could face prosecution if there was any further publication of the documents.

"The publication of leaked communications, knowing the damage they have caused or are likely to cause may also be a criminal matter", the statement from Basu said.

Evening Standard editor George Osborne described Mr Basu's statement as "stupid" and "ill-advised". "Once you start prosecuting the media for publishing stuff you don't like, that is a very unsafe place to be", Bob Seely, a Tory MP who sits on the Commons Foreign Affairs committee, told the Telegraph.

"Going after the leaker is fair game, going after the media is not", he said.

MP Tom Tugenhadt, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, told Radio 4's Today programme that it was "a reasonable request" to ask the media not to publish leaked documents which undermine security, but he "doubted" whether it was a crime.

The inquiry by the Metropolitan police counter-terrorism command, which is responsible for investigating breaches of the Official Secrets Act, was announced in a statement attributed to Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu.

"Turn them over to the police or give them back to their rightful owner, Her Majesty's Government", Basu said.

The British government had opened its own inquiry into the leaks this week and noted it had involved the police to ascertain whether any documents protected by the Official Secrets Act had been shared. That is the law of the land.

He said he had not defended the ambassador more because he did not think civil servants should be dragged into political disputes.

President Trump hit back and denounced him as a "very stupid guy" and a "pompous fool", vowing he would never work with him in his position as ambassador.

Almost a week after the cables were leaked, Basu's announcement of the investigation ended with a pointed call to the media. You can stop this now.

Sir Kim's resignation prompted widespread support for him - as well as criticism of Tory leadership frontrunner Mr Johnson.

But in an interview with the BBC's Andrew Neil, Mr Johnson said when he spoke to Sir Kim by telephone the ambassador told him he had not seen the debate himself although somebody had told him about Mr Johnson's comments.

After Trump said he would no longer work with Darroch, and he was disinvited from several events, the British ambassador resigned on Wednesday. "Some people just told me - too bad - they said he actually said some very good things about me", he said.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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