Theresa May refuses to defend journalists' right to publish leaks after police threat to prosecute

Posted On: 
15th July 2019

Theresa May has refused to defend the rights of journalists to publish leaked material after criticism by a senior police figure over the Sir Kim Darroch diplomatic cables.

Metropolitan Police’s Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu partially rowed back on his comments about the publication of leaked materials
PA Images

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said she is a strong advocate for press freedom, but would not comment on a statement from the Metropolitan Police’s Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, which threatened journalists with prosecution for printing sensitive materials.

It comes after an investigation was launched to find the source of the leaked communiques from Sir Kim, the UK’s former ambassador to America, in which he criticised President Donald Trump.

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After Mr Basu’s statement on Friday he rowed back partially, saying the Met “respects the rights of the media and has no intention of seeking to prevent editors from publishing stories in the public interest in a liberal democracy”.

But he added that the publication of such material was a breach of the Official Secrets Act and “could also constitute a criminal offence”.

In response, Tory leadership hopefuls Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt both condemned the police threat.

Meanwhile, London mayor Sadiq Khan, who is responsible for the capital’s police force, told the Daily Telegraph: “The media must not be told what they can and can’t publish.”

But the PM’s spokesman refused to echo those comments when put to him, saying: “The Met have issued two statements, both of which are a matter for them. And I won’t be commenting on either.

“As the Prime Minister has said the leak was completely unacceptable and the person who leaked the documents should now face the consequences.”

After it was suggested the UK would be “a police state” if officers decided what can and cannot be published, the spokesman said he would not “comment on an ongoing investigation”, but that the investigation to identify the leaker “has the Government’s full support”.

And he added: “On press freedom, the Prime Minister’s views are very well known – as she has said, a free press is one of the foundations on which our democracy rests.”

Former Brexit Secretary David Davis has called for Mr Basu to be removed from the leak inquiry, but Number 10 would not be drawn on the matter, saying staffing issues are for the police to decide, not the Government.

Sir Kim resigned last week saying his position had become “impossible” following the publication of diplomatic cables in the Mail on Sunday, in which he described Mr Trump’s White House as “inept” and “dysfunctional”.