Top cop’s hunt for Trump leaker branded ‘stupid’ as Boris Johnson vows to defend Press freedom in No10 – The Sun
A POLICE chief was branded “stupid and dangerous” yesterday for threatening to prosecute journalists reporting the contents of secret documents.
Neil Basu warned editors may face court if they failed to hand over official papers as he launched a hunt for the mole who leaked comments by the Brit ambassador about President Donald Trump.
Scotland Yard’s assistant commissioner Mr Basu revealed that counter-terrorism cops would investigate alleged criminal breaches of the Official Secrets Act following the release to the Press of the secret diplomatic cables from 2017.
In them, Britain’s ambassador to Washington, Sir Kim Darroch, called Mr Trump’s administration “dysfunctional” and “inept”, damaging the UK’s special relationship with the US. Sir Kim resigned over the backlash.
But several senior MPs argued that Mr Basu overstepped the mark by warning newspapers and social media users that they would be committing a crime by publishing further secrets.
It came after he announced on Friday: “I’d advise editors not to publish leaked public documents in their possession.” Within minutes, the politicians were demanding he keeps his hands off the media. Met Commissioner Cressida Dick was also under pressure to slap down the officer amid calls for heads to roll.
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, the men battling to be the next PM, condemned Mr Basu’s threats — and vowed to defend Press freedom once in No10. Front-runner Mr Johnson said it was right for the mole to be “hunted down and prosecuted” but wrong for police to target the media. He said: “It cannot conceivably be right that newspapers or any other media organisation publishing such material face prosecution.
MEDIA IN HIS SIGHTS
TOP cop Neil Basu previously hit out at the media in the aftermath of the Christchurch terror attack.
The counter-terrorism chief was angered as news groups published footage of the gunman attacking two mosques in New Zealand in March.
He said they criticised Facebook and Google for hosting radical content but put similar material on their own websites.
Basu, who works closely with MI5, added: “A piece of extremist propaganda might reach tens of thousands of people naturally through their own channels or networks.
“But the moment a national newspaper publishes it in full then it has a potential to reach tens of millions. We must recognise this as harmful to our society and security.”
University graduate Basu, pictured with Met chief Cressida Dick, worked as a Barclays analyst and spent a year with Mars as a sales manager before joining the force as a uniformed cop in 1992. His work has included probing war crimes, and the protection of VIPs and royals.
“In my view there is no threat to national security implied in the release of this material. It is embarrassing, but it is not a threat to national security. It is the duty of media organisations to bring new and interesting facts into the public domain. That is what they are there for. A prosecution on this basis would amount to an infringement on Press freedom and have a chilling effect on public debate.”
Foreign Secretary Mr Hunt said: “These leaks damaged UK-US relations and cost a loyal ambassador his job so the person responsible must be held 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. It’s their job.”
Former Chancellor George Osborne called Mr Basu’s comments “very stupid and ill-advised” and urged Commissioner Dick to step in. Mr Osborne, the editor of the London Evening Standard, said Mr Basu was “a junior officer who doesn’t appear to understand much about Press freedom”.
He said: “No prosecution would have a chance of succeeding anyway. I predict a U-turn by the Commissioner overruling Mr Basu. If they stick with his threats to the media then there will be calls for resignations.”
Tory MP Damian Collins, who chairs the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee agreed with his comments. He said the threat was a “dangerous” step. Mr Collins added: “If there is an issue here, it is with the leaker and not with the Press for reporting it.
“The only investigation that police should be pursuing is if somebody has broken the Official Secrets Act by leaking information and not the journalist who is doing their job.”
Brexit Party chief Nigel Farage said Mr Basu’s comments “smack of oppression”. He said: It’s the sort of language you expect to hear in a police state.”
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has said it was not “appropriate” for the police to threaten the media with prosecution. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn added: “Freedom of the Press is vital.”
Last night Mr Basu appeared to be on the brink of a climbdown. He said the Met respected the rights of the media and had “no intention” of trying to stop editors publishing public interest stories in a liberal democracy.
Mr Basu said the force had launched a criminal inquiry on the basis of legal advice suggesting the leak may breach the Official Secrets Act. He said: “The focus of the investigation is on identifying who was responsible for the leak.
“However, we have also been told the publication of these specific documents, now knowing they may be a breach of the OSA, could also constitute a criminal offence and one that carries no public interest defence.”
This is the worst it's been since the Suez Crisis
By Sir Christopher Meyer
WHEN I was ambassador in Washington, I had a very close contact in the White House. We exchanged sensitive information. At the end of each conversation he would say: “Don’t burn me.”
He was afraid that, if there were a leak in London, he would be revealed as the source of my information. Most of the time I concealed his identity. But there were occasions when I had to say who my source was. I was always afraid that his name would leak. It never did.
But now our man in Washington, Sir Kim Darroch, has been so severely “burnt” that he has had to resign. Somebody, we don’t know who and we may never find out, leaked to a Sunday newspaper last week a treasure trove of Sir Kim’s reports to London.
In these reports he described President Trump and his White House as inept, clumsy and dysfunctional. There are rumours of further leaks. These were hard-hitting comments by Sir Kim. But diplomats are useless if their reports are not candid. And, of course, they are not meant for publication.
Trump’s response was swift, brutal and public. He tweeted that Sir Kim was “wacky”, a “pompous fool”, and that, to all intents and purposes, he would be shut out of Trump’s administration.
That was a diplomatic death sentence. It made it impossible for Sir Kim to do his job. He had no choice but to resign. This is the most serious crisis in UK/US relations since the Americans forced us to halt our attempted seizure of the Suez canal in 1956.
I have never heard such childishly insulting language from a US president about any ambassador, still less the representative of America’s staunchest ally.
More’s the pity that over here this sorry affair has become a political football, entangled in the Tory leadership campaign. We should be focussing instead on how to handle relations with America under Trump.
There is no need to hurry to replace Sir Kim. Let matters cool over the summer holidays. His deputy can hold the fort When a successor is appointed by the new PM and foreign secretary, they will have to choose between a career diplomat and a political appointee.
Over the years we have had both in the splendid mansion on Massachusetts Avenue. But, whichever it is, they must remember that their job as ambassador is to represent the British interest in Washington, not Trump’s interest to London.
Sir Christopher Meyer is a former British ambassador to the US
Murder on the Torient express
DIPLOMATS liken the police case to Murder on the Orient Express. A senior source said: “I could point to ten members of the Cabinet who could have a motive and there are dozens more officials as well.”
Here are three Agatha Christie-style theories about who could benefit from the leak — although there is no suggestion that any of those mentioned are leakers.
SACKED Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson could benefit from the leak.
The only person standing between him and a new ministerial job is his top civil servant foe Sir Mark Sedwill.
But Sir Mark is tipped to be Britain’s next ambassador to Washington. So getting Sir Kim Darroch replaced in the US before the new Prime Minister picks his first
Cabinet could clear the way for a political comeback for Mr Williamson.
NIGEL Farage was swift to celebrate when Sir Kim Darroch fell on his sword.
He has clashed with the ambassador in the past over his pro-EU stance. And it is no secret that he would be glad to see the back of him.
It would also give him an outside chance of landing the job himself.
This would let him boost his relationship with his pal Donald Trump.
TRADE Secretary Liam Fox is also rumoured to have his eye on the US ambassador’s job.
His Cabinet career could be over if Boris Johnson becomes PM, because he backed rival Jeremy Hunt. Dr Fox is a big friend of America and feels he could build bridges with the Trump regime.
But like those in our other theories of who would benefit, he is seen as too honourable to have leaked a secret paper.
BoJo leak row alert
BORIS Johnson faced being dragged further into the row over leaked cables from the UK’s ex-ambassador in the US.
Material relating to the Tory leadership contender’s visit to Washington DC was set to be made public, it was reported.
A further diplomatic telegram is set to enter the public domain which includes the thoughts of Sir Kim Darroch.
It is understood that it will concern Sir Kim’s views on US policy towards Iran.
Mr Johnson has revealed the ambassador’s decision to leave his post had been influenced by his responses in the ITV leaders’ debate. Boris said his views had been misrepresented to Sir Kim.
The Sun Says
SCOTLAND Yard bigwig Neil Basu’s threat to the Press over its reporting of the US Ambassador affair is truly chilling.
Perhaps Assistant Commissioner Basu has been holidaying in North Korea?
His heavy-handed warning to journalists is more in line with the sort of menaces seen in Pyongyang than it is with British values.
Let us be clear, the leaking of confidential government information is a very serious matter.
But the latest publication of ex-US Ambassador Kim Darroch’s views does not put any lives in danger or threaten Britain’s national security.
There is an obvious public interest in knowing what our most senior diplomat has to say about the most powerful leader on the planet.
The widespread condemnation of Mr Basu’s remarks shows just how far he has got it wrong.
His hamfisted attempts to backtrack yesterday change nothing.
This row comes at the same time as Labour demands the BBC remove an episode of Panorama from iPlayer because its chiefs disagree with the programme’s investigation into the party’s widespread anti-Semitism.
These sickening assaults seek to prevent the media doing its job, namely exposing unpleasant truths about the powerful.
Met Commissioner Cressida Dick needs to slap down Mr Basu immediately.
He has badly overstepped the mark.
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