Police are investigating the alleged leaking of diplomatic emails concerning Sir Kim Darroch’s comments about Donald Trump.
Scotland Yard say its counter-terrorism command is leading an investigation into the incident, concerning the outgoing ambassador to Washington.
It had emerged Sir Kim had described the US President’s administration as ‘inept’ in secret assessments for ministers, leading to Trump branding Sir Kim a ‘pompous fool’ and banning him from the White House.
Police now say there is a ‘clear public interest’ in bringing the person or people responsible to justice, adding that the UK’s international relations had been damaged by the incident.
Officers also warned media outlets against publishing leaked government documents, warning that it ‘may also be a criminal matter’ – remarks which came under fire from politicians who warned against ‘police state’ curtails to the press.
Police are investigating the alleged leaking of diplomatic cables concerning Sir Kim Darroch’s comments about Donald Trump
The Metropolitan Police’s Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said: ‘Following a cross-government investigation led by the Cabinet Office a Gateway Process has occurred today with the Metropolitan Police into the alleged leaking of official communications involving Sir Kim Darroch.
‘As a result the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command, who take national responsibility for investigating allegations of criminal breaches of the Official Secrets Act, has launched a criminal investigation.
‘Given the widely reported consequences of that leak I am satisfied that there has been damage caused to UK international relations, and there would be clear public interest in bringing the person or people responsible to justice.
‘The investigation will be reviewed at every stage to ensure a proportionate investigation is undertaken.’
It had emerged Sir Kim the had described the US President’s administration as ‘inept’
The Met also warned publishers that they may face prosecution if they publish leaked communications.
Mr Basu continued: ‘The publication of leaked communications, knowing the damage they have caused or are likely to cause may also be a criminal matter.
‘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.’
Former health minister Norman Lamb told the newspaper that attempts to prosecute publishers was ‘totally unacceptable’ and ‘contrary to the whole principle of a free press’.
He added: ‘We can’t contemplate any slippery slope to a police state that accepts that sort of limitation on the freedom of the press to report.’
Theresa May, Mr Hunt and the Cabinet signalled their full support for Sir Kim, saying he was only doing his job of providing an honest view, and had not been reflecting the government’s position
Conservative MP Bob Seely said it would be ‘a dangerous road to go down’, adding: ‘Once you start prosecuting the media for publishing stuff you don’t like, that is a very dangerous place to be’.
He said we need a free press ‘more than ever’, and that the correct course would be to prosecute the ‘leaker’, not the media.
The news comes as Boris Johnson tonight admitted he played a role in Sir Kim Darroch’s resignation as British ambassador by failing to defend him from Donald Trump’s onslaught.
The Conservative would-be PM said he knew Sir Kim’s decision to fall on his sword was partly down to his lukewarm support in an ITV debate this week.
Mr Johnson has been accused of throwing the UK’s ambassador to Washington ‘under the bus’ when leaked memos triggered an extraordinary public row with Mr Trump.
Theresa May, Mr Hunt and the Cabinet signalled their full support for Sir Kim, saying he was only doing his job of providing an honest view, and had not been reflecting the government’s position.
Interviewed by the BBC’s Andrew Neil tonight, Boris Johnson admitted Sir Kim Darroch’s resignation had been partly due to his refusal to defend him in an ITV debate
Mr Basu continued: ‘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.
‘Also, to anyone who knows or suspects those responsible, or who has any information, please come forward.
‘Exercise your public and civic duty and call the police on 0800 789321 without delay. That call will be treated in strictest confidence.
Earlier today Donald Trump praised Sir Kim for comparing him to the Terminator in leaked messages.
The president said the ambassador had said ‘pretty nice things’ about him, days after branding the British envoy a ‘pompous fool’ and ‘a pretty stupid guy’.
Sir Kim stepped down amid the fallout from leaked emails last weekend.