UK police warning to media over diplomat's leaked Trump memos stirs anger

Metropolitan Police Assistant Comissioner Neil Basu

Met Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu warned the media that further publication of the ambassador's emails could be a criminal offence, as the Counter Terrorism Command launched an investigation to determine who leaked the official communications from Sir Kim Darroch.

His Tory leadership rival Boris Johnson said it was correct the person responsible for the leak was "hunted down and prosecuted" but it was wrong for police to target the media.

Boris Johnson said that stopping newspapers printing such documents would represent "an infringement on press freedom and have a chilling effect on public debate".

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt wrote on Twitter: "I defend to the hilt the right of the press to publish those leaks if they receive them & judge them to be in the public interest: that is their job".

"We are however a body charged with enforcing the law, and we have received legal advice that has caused us to start a criminal enquiry into the leak of these specific documents as a potential breach of the Official Secrets Act (OSA)".

Dating from 2017 to the present day, Darroch in the leak emails said: "We don't really believe this administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction-riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept".

Tim Shipman, a senior journalist at the Sunday Times newspaper known for his political scoops, said the police statement was "sinister, absurd, anti-democratic".

Johnson, himself a journalist and former editor, said the Darroch leaks were "embarrassing but it is not a threat to national security".

However, the Tory leadership frontrunner denied failing to give Sir Kim his backing and said his words during a televised leadership debate had been "misrepresented".

Now in the running to become Conservative Party leader and the next prime minister, Hunt tweeted that while the leaks damaged USA and United Kingdom relations and the person responsible must be held accountable, he "defend [s] to the hilt the right of the press to publish those leaks if they receive them & judge them to be in the public interest: that is their job." .

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Mr Basu said police have "no intention of seeking to prevent editors from publishing stories in the public interest in a liberal democracy".

"We know these documents, and potentially others, remain in circulation", he added.

"We have a duty to prevent as well as detect crime and the previous statement was meant to alert to the risk of breaching the OSA", he said.

"This is simply not acceptable in a free society and will act as a huge deterrent to whistle-blowers".

"I can not think of a worse example of a heavy-handed approach by the police to attempt to curtail the role of the media as a defence against the powerful and those in authority", he said.

Mr Osborne described the statement as "very stupid and ill-advised".

The former chancellor said Mr Basu failed to understand the importance of press freedom and urged Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick to disown his statement.

The Official Secrets Act prohibits public servants from making "damaging" disclosures of classified material. "That has not happened and so the police have been involved and I think that is a normal process".

In his Twitter storm on Tuesday, Trump described the ambassador as "wacky", "a very stupid guy" and a "pompous fool".

Sir Kim stepped down as ambassador on Wednesday, saying it was "impossible" for him to continue.

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