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Calls for Met Police chief Neil Basu to ‘step aside’ after he ‘strayed well beyond his brief’

Neil Basu should ‘step aside’ from investigating the leaking of Sir Kim Darroch’s Trump memos and replaced with a police officer who believes in Britain’s free press, it was claimed today.

Former Tory cabinet minister David Davis has said his threat to prosecute journalists for publishing leaked cables is ‘straying well beyond his brief’.

Mr Basu’s warning has caused fury and also left him isolated at the top of the probe with growing calls for his boss Cressida Dick to replace him after just three days. 

Commissioner Dick is understood not to have seen or agreed to his press statement – because she was at a passing out parade at Hendon police training college on Friday – but could today choose to speak herself and distance the Met from his words or even replace him.

Mr Davis said: ‘Mr Basu should not resign. But [Met commissioner] Cressida Dick should consider transferring responsibility for the investigation to an officer who puts the preservation of our free Press ahead of protection of the state’s reputation.’

There is pressure growing Commissioner Cressida Dick to intervene if Basu doesn't step aside

Met deputy chief Neil Basu should step aside from investigating the leaking of the diplomatic Trump memos – with pressure growing on his boss Cressida Dick to intervene if he doesn’t

Scotland Yard launched a probe on Friday to find who leaked Sir Kim Darroch’s memos calling the Trump administration ‘clumsy and inept’.

Announcing the investigation Mr Basu, an assistant commissioner for the Metropolitan Police in charge of tackling terrorism, said journalists who publish or share any of Sir Kim’s leaked diplomatic cables could be arrested on suspicion of breaching of the Official Secrets Act.     

David Davis has said that Mr Basu has gone too far and should be replaced on the Darroch probe

David Davis has said that Mr Basu has gone too far and should be replaced on the Darroch probe

His threat has led to a chorus of disapproval with London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who is in charge of policing in the capital, declaring: ‘Free speech is a vital cornerstone of our democracy. We are rightly the envy of the world. The media must not be told what they can and can’t publish.’  

Former Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, a friend and mentor to Mr Basu before his retirement, told the Telegraph that Scotland Yard must ‘step very carefully and warily’ – saying their probe should focus on finding the leaker not muzzling the press.

He said: ‘I hold Neil Basu in the highest of regards. It’s clear that where there’s been a breach of the Official Secrets Act the leaker should be pursued vigorously and face the full force of the state.

‘Clearly one needs to step very carefully and warily when considering those in receipt [of the documents] in the media. No-one would wish to undermine the freedom of the press and the important function and role the press plays’.

Former Brexit Secretary David Davis was vociferous in his criticism of Assistant Commissioner Basu last night as Whitehall sources indicated that Theresa May had not ordered the police to intervene in the row. 

But in a letter to the Times, Mr Davis wrote: ‘During the Brexit negotiation process there were deliberate leaks of material that undermined our position.

‘There were leak inquiries, but never a suggestion that there should be criminal prosecutions of the leakers, let alone the Press!’

He continued: ‘The British establishment seems to lose its sense of proportion when either Trump or Brexit are concerned. Prosecuting journalists for embarrassing the state is not what we do in the UK’.

Damian Collins MP, Chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, told The Sun last night: ‘The Metropolitan Police should withdraw the statement and make it clear that there is no legal risk for newspapers freely reporting on the leaked documents.

‘Neil Basu’s statement was clearly a threat aimed at newspaper editors encouraging them not to report on a story, in which there is clear public interest. This was wrong.’

Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs committee, added: ‘Police threats to media freedom have no place in the UK.’ 

Tory leadership rivals Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt also defended the Press’s right to publish the diplomatic cables.

Human rights lawyers claimed yesterday that the police had acted in order to ‘protect the Government from embarrassment’. 

But a senior Whitehall source insisted the police were solely responsible for Mr Basu’s controversial statement that publishing material from leaked cables ‘may be a criminal matter’. 

He also advised the Press not to publish further material from the cables.

Britain’s Ambassador to Washington Sir Kim Darroch claimed that Donald Trump abandoned the Iran nuclear deal as an act of ‘diplomatic vandalism’ to spite his predecessor Barack Obama

Britain’s Ambassador to Washington Sir Kim Darroch claimed that Donald Trump abandoned the Iran nuclear deal as an act of ‘diplomatic vandalism’ to spite his predecessor Barack Obama

Sir Kim said in his cables that the president abandoned the deal for ‘personality reasons’ and suggested there were splits among his closest advisors

The leaking provoked fury in Whitehall and led to a major inquiry, which culminated in the Metropolitan Police’s Counter-Terror Command taking charge on Friday evening. 

The source said the involvement of Scotland Yard in the hunt for the mole followed an independent assessment by the police and Crown Prosecution Service of whether the Official Secrets Act had potentially been breached. 

He added: ‘The idea that No 10 fancy a row over Press freedom at this point is a little far-fetched.’

Mr Johnson joined the chorus of criticism yesterday. He said: ‘It can’t be right that papers publishing material face prosecution. There’s no threat to national security.’

His leadership rival Mr Hunt, who is leading a campaign for Press freedom around the world, said: ‘I defend to the hilt the right of the Press to publish those leaks if they judge them to be in the national interest.’ 

Following the backlash prompted by his remarks, Mr Basu made a partial climbdown, saying the Metropolitan Police ‘respects the rights of the media and has no intention of seeking to prevent editors publishing stories in the public interest’.

But he repeated his warning that publishing documents in breach of the Official Secrets Act ‘could constitute a criminal offence and one that carries no public interest defence.’

The Mail on Sunday yesterday published fresh material gleaned from the leaked cables sent by Sir Kim.

Government sources played down the prospect of an imminent breakthrough in the leak inquiry. It is understood that the government spy station GCHQ has ruled out the possibility that a hostile state such as Russia obtained the cables by hacking government systems.

Attention is focusing on a small group of current and former officials and ministers who would have had access to Sir Kim’s messages.

Journalist Isabel Oakeshott rejects claims she was handed leaked documents by her new partner – Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party chair

Journalist Isabel Oakeshott, pictured at the Conservative Party Conference in 2017, has rejected claims she got secret diplomatic messages from her Brexiteer partner

Journalist Isabel Oakeshott, pictured at the Conservative Party Conference in 2017, has rejected claims she got secret diplomatic messages from her Brexiteer partner

Journalist Isabel Oakeshott today dismissed claims she was leaked secret diplomatic messages by her Brexiteer partner.

Oakeshott said her relationship with Richard Tice, chair of Nigel Farage ‘s Brexit Party, was ‘not a secret’.

She insisted Mr Tice had ‘nothing to do’ with the dramatic revelations in the Mail on Sunday, and did not even know the identity of her source.

Meanwhile, Mr Tice rejected ‘conspiracy theory’ claims that he wanted to become the next ambassador to the US.

The blunt denials came amid continuing fallout from the leaking of secret memos written by Sir Kim Darroch, in which he delivered a withering verdict on Donald Trump.

Their emergence triggered a furious response from Mr Trump, who branded the UK’s envoy a ‘pompous fool’ and banned him from the White House. Sir Kim quit in the wake of the leaks admitting he could no longer do his job.

The Mail on Sunday published more of Oakeshott’s revelations from the cables today, despite an extraordinary threat from the police that they could prosecute.

Met Police assistant commissioner Neil Basu’s warning that publication could be a ‘criminal matter’ triggered fury that he was impinging on the freedom of the press this weekend, with Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt leading the outrage.

The Sunday Times and Sunday Mirror reported today that Oakeshott and Mr Tice had been in a relationship since last year and that she has left her husband, the former journalist Nigel Rosser.

But Oakeshott posted on Twitter: ‘So what? It is not a secret. He had nothing to do with my story; has never seen the cables and doesn’t know the identity of the source. Next?’

Earlier yesterday Mr Tice tweeted: ‘Conspiracy theorists who think I want US Ambassador job totally wrong.

‘Ridiculous suggestion! But other senior pro Brexit businessperson would do great job promoting U.K. & securing quick trade deal.

‘I’m 100% focused on chairing @brexitparty_uk & likely Autumn election.’

Who is Neil Basu? Britain’s top Asian officer who leads national anti-terror operations and is tipped to be the next Met Commissioner

He is the Scotland Yard high-flyer with what many regard as the toughest job in policing.

Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, Britain’s top Asian police officer, oversees terrorism investigations at the Metropolitan Police and is the so-called ‘national lead’ officer for counter-terror operations across the UK.

Colleagues say he is well-liked within the force and by intelligence officials at MI5 and is likely to be a contender to be the next Met Commissioner.

Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, Britain’s top Asian police officer, oversees terrorism investigations at the Metropolitan Police. He's seen announcing the start of an investigation into the leaking of Sir Kim Darroch's diplomatic cables on Friday

Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, Britain’s top Asian police officer, oversees terrorism investigations at the Metropolitan Police. He’s seen announcing the start of an investigation into the leaking of Sir Kim Darroch’s diplomatic cables on Friday 

Yet his 27-year police career has not been without controversy, most notably as head of Operations Weeting, Elveden and Tuleta. 

The three inquiries into phone hacking, computer hacking and alleged payments to police officers by newspapers cost around £19.5 million and were criticised for criminalising journalists.

Neil Basu, pictured in 2004 as a Detective Chief Inspector, as he appealed for information over the murder of seven-year-old Toni-Ann Byfield

Neil Basu, pictured in 2004 as a Detective Chief Inspector, as he appealed for information over the murder of seven-year-old Toni-Ann Byfield

Critics at the time said the Met could have spent the money going after terrorists, murderers and drug dealers.

Mr Basu also raised eyebrows when he criticised the Prevent programme – which tries to detect and deradicalise Muslim extremists – as ‘toxic’. 

‘Government will not thank me for saying this, but an independent reviewer of Prevent… would be a healthy thing,’ he said.

A Hindu, born to an Indian doctor father and a white British mother, he has said he has encountered racism over most of his life.

He grew up in Stafford, where he studied at Walton High School before reading economics at Nottingham University. 

He became a Met police officer in 1992, serving first as a beat bobby in Battersea, South London, then swiftly moving through the ranks as a borough commander in Barnet, North London, and a Commander of South London in 2012.

The most-high profile counter-terrorism investigation overseen by Mr Basu in his current role was the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury last year. He is seen discussing the police response to the Salisbury attacks on March 13, 2017

The most-high profile counter-terrorism investigation overseen by Mr Basu in his current role was the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury last year. He is seen discussing the police response to the Salisbury attacks on March 13, 2017 

His first major high-profile Met post came in 2014, when he was appointed Commander – Organised Crime and Gangs. 

Three years later, as a Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Mr Basu was tested as Britain was hit by an unprecedented five terrorist attacks in one year, including the Manchester bombing that killed 22 people and the Westminster attack, which killed four, including a police officer.

The most-high profile counter-terrorism investigation overseen by Mr Basu in his current role was the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury last year, which the Met says was directed by the Kremlin.

A father with three sons, Mr Basu is married to Dr Nina Cope, a senior official at the National Crime Agency, often described as Britain’s FBI. 

 

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