Jeremy Hunt has defended the right of journalists to publish leaked government documents after police warned any further release of diplomatic cables could a “criminal matter”.
Scotland Yard announced on Friday it was launching a criminal investigation into the leak of dispatches from the British ambassador to the US, Sir Kim Darroch, which were highly critical of the Trump administration.
At the same time, Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu issued a warning to the media that they could face prosecution if there was any further publication of the documents.
His comments drew a furious response from journalists and some politicians.
Mr Hunt, the Foreign Secretary and Tory leadership contender, said that while police were right to investigate the source of the leak he backed the right of the press to publish such material.
“These leaks damaged UK/US relations and cost a loyal ambassador his job so the person responsible MUST be held fully to account,” he tweeted.
“But I defend to the hilt the right of the press to publish those leaks if they receive them and judge them to be in the public interest: that is their job.”
In a statement Mr Basu said there was a “clear public interest” in bringing the perpetrator to justice given the damage caused to Britain’s international relations.
“The publication of leaked communications, knowing the damage they have caused or are likely to cause, may also be a criminal matter,” he said.
“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.”