Met police launch investigation into leaked Darroch cables

Police have opened an investigation into the alleged leaking of diplomatic cables involving the outgoing UK ambassador to Washington, Sir Kim Darroch, and demanded that those responsible hand themselves in.

Scotland Yard said its counter-terrorism command, which takes national responsibility for investigating allegations of criminal breaches of the Official Secrets Act, was leading the investigation.

Darroch resigned as the envoy to the US on Wednesday after the Tory leadership candidate, Boris Johnson, publicly refused to explicitly support him over the revelation that the ambassador had been heavily critical of Donald Trump in secret communications with London.

The US president reacted with fury to the emergence of the cables – in which Darroch reportedly described him as “inept”, “insecure” and “incompetent” – and said he would no longer deal with him.

On Friday, Neil Basu, assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police, said: “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 Cabinet Office launched an investigation in the immediate aftermath of the story’s publication by the Mail on Sunday. Britain’s intelligence and security services assessed that the leak was not the result of actions by a hostile foreign power.

Senior Cabinet Office officials held discussions with deputy assistant commissioner, Dean Haydon, the senior national coordinator at Scotland yard’s SO15, on how to proceed.

Police did not have the authority to act until the government enacted the gateway process, which is the agreed mechanism for the police to assess the information available and decide whether to conduct a criminal investigation into offences committed under the Official Secrets Act.

In the cables allegedly leaked to the Mail on Sunday, the UK’s outgoing ambassador to Washington, Sir Kim Darroch told his bosses in London that:

  • He did not believe the Trump administration would “become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept”.
  • Trump may have been indebted to “dodgy Russians”.
  • There were bitter divisions within the Trump White House, saying euphemistically that administration officials would get into “knife fights”.
  • The Trump presidency could “crash and burn” and that “we could be at the beginning of a downward spiral … that leads to disgrace and downfall”.
  • The US president’s approach to global trade could wreck the system on which it depends.
  • Trump could attack Iran.

When they announced the launch of the investigation into the alleged leak on Friday, officers demanded that the person or people responsible hand themselves in.

“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,” Basu said.

“Also, to anyone who knows or suspects those responsible, or who has any information, please come forward.”

He warned media organisations that they could be breaking the law if they published further details from the cables. “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.”

Johnson has come under intense political pressure over the affair. On Friday, he acknowledged that his handling of it had led Darroch to conclude he had no option but to resign. The Tory leadership hopeful had been asked repeatedly if he would back the ambassador staying in his post and repeatedly declined to explicitly do so at a televised debate on Tuesday.

Darroch’s resignation came the following morning.

Some Tory MPs accused the former foreign secretary, who is favourite to succeed Theresa May, of throwing Darroch “under a bus”. Shortly before Scotland Yard confirmed it had opened its investigation, Johnson admitted his response had been a factor in Darroch’s resignation.

He claimed Darroch had told him he heard only a second-hand account of his comments and had taken the decision to resign from the UK’s most prestigious foreign diplomatic posting without watching the footage himself.

“He said that what somebody had relayed to him had certainly been a factor in his resignation … I think that, unfortunately, what I said on that TV debate was misrepresented to Kim,” Johnson told the BBC during a combative interview with Andrew Neil.

He added: “I stood up completely for the principle that civil servants should be allowed to say what they want for their political masters without fear or favour.”

Johnson also denied being “craven” towards the US president and claimed that, in the debate, he had simply been rejecting the idea that Darroch’s career should be made into a “political football”.

During Tuesday’s debate, when asked to confirm that he would keep Darroch in post if he became prime minister, Johnson declined to do so, saying it would be “presumptuous”.

Later on Friday evening, he was heckled during a hustings in Cheltenham. “Answer the bloody question,” an audience member shouted at Johnson as he was asked about Darroch’s resignation.

In his BBC interview, Jeremy Hunt – the foreign secretary and Johnson’s rival for the Tory leadership – told Neil that Darroch had “been clear that that [Johnson’s response] was one of the factors [in his resignation] and I think it’s a great shame”.

On Thursday, amid concern among diplomats that a similar fate could befall them as they fulfilled their duties, Hunt wrote to all Foreign Office staff imploring them to continue “speaking truth to power and standing up for British interests”.


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