UK Police Warn Publishers Not to Use Leaked Documents
TEHRAN (Tasnim) - A British investigation into the leaking of confidential diplomatic memos is raising press freedom issues with a police warning that UK media might face a criminal inquiry if leaked documents are published.
The Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command is investigating the leak of private memos written by Britain's ambassador to the United States as a possible breach of the Official Secrets Act.
Announcing the police inquiry, Counterterrorism police unit leader Neil Basu warned against any further publication of leaked documents. He said that could be a criminal matter, AP reported.
He also urged the leakers: "Turn yourself in at the earliest opportunity, explain yourself and face the consequences."
The leak led to the resignation of British Ambassador Kim Darroch after President Donald Trump said his administration would no longer work with Darroch, who had criticized Trump in the leaked cables. Darroch said he could no longer properly do his job.
British officials say they believe the leak was not a result of computer hacking and seems to have been carried out by an insider.
The Official Secrets Act prohibits public servants from making "damaging" disclosures of classified material. It is aimed at civil servants and others in the government with access to sensitive information and is not designed to target journalists.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is jousting with Boris Johnson to become the next prime minister, tweeted Saturday that the person responsible for the leak must be found and held responsible, but he differed with police over whether the publication of leaks is a possible crime.
"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," he said.
The chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat, said he does not believe publishing leaked material constitutes an offense under British law.
He said a free press is "essential."
The Mail on Sunday, which first obtained the trove of leaked memos, has not faced any legal repercussions for its decision to publish.
The Foreign Office criticized the leak but did not challenge the authenticity of the memos, which characterized the Trump administration as chaotic and inept.