Scotland Yard under fire over probe into envoy’s email leak
Questions about press freedom were raised after Scotland Yard announced a criminal inquiry into the leak last week of British ambassador to the US, Kim Darroch’s emails, which sparked a bitter diplomatic row with US President Donald Trump.
The new row centered around a statement by Scotland Yard’s assistant commissioner Neil Basu that the “publication of leaked communications, knowing the damage they have caused or are likely to cause, may also be a criminal matter”.
Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who organized a conference on threat to media freedom across the world this week, defended the right of the press to publish Darroch’s leaked emails that described the Trump administration as ‘inept, insecure and incompetent’, among other remarks.
Hunt said on Saturday: “These leaks damaged UK/US relations and cost a loyal ambassador his job, so the person responsible must be held fully to account. But I defend to the hilt the right of the press to publish those leaks if they receive them and judge them to be in the public interest: that is their job.”
Former chancellor George Osborne, who now edits the Evening Standard and other editors accused Scotland Yard of encroaching on press freedom. The police probe is focussing on alleged criminal breaches of the Official Secrets Act.
Osborne described Basu’s statement as ‘ill-advised’, saying: “If I were the Metropolitan Police commissioner, and I wanted to maintain my credibility and the credibility of my force, I would quickly distance myself from this very stupid and ill-advised statement from a junior officer, who doesn’t appear to understand much about press freedom.”
Tim Shipman, political editor of The Sunday Times, also criticized the “sinister, absurd, anti-democratic statement”, asking the Scotland Yard: “Do you have any comprehension of a free society? This isn’t Russia.”
Basu said in his statement: “I would say to the person or people who did this, the impact of what you have done is obvious. However, you are now also responsible for diverting busy detectives from undertaking their core mission. You can stop this now. Turn yourself in at the earliest opportunity, explain yourself and face the consequences.”
“I would advise all owners, editors and publishers of social and mainstream media not to publish leaked government documents that may already be in their possession, or which may be offered to them, and to turn them over to the police or give them back to their rightful owner, Her Majesty’s Government.”