Wednesday 22 November 2017

Theresa May set to raise bomb probe leak concerns with Donald Trump, as police 'stop sharing info with US'

Suicide bomber Salman Abedi Picture: AP
Parts of the bomb believed to have been used in the Manchester bombing
Parts of the bomb believed to have been used in the Manchester bombing
Parts of the bomb believed to have been used in the Manchester bombing
Parts of the bomb believed to have been used in the Manchester bombing

Andrew Woodcock

Theresa May is expected to raise UK concerns about the leaking of intelligence on the Manchester bomb attack to the US press when she meets Donald Trump on Thursday.

The disclosure of material provided by Britain sparked fury in Whitehall and prompted an unusual rebuke from UK police who warned that a breach of trust of this sort "undermines" investigations.

UK Government ministers voiced their anger in calls to their US counterparts on Wednesday evening, after the publication in the New York Times (NYT) of scenes-of-crime photographs showing bloodstained fragments of Salman Abedi's bomb.

The pictures appeared a day after the bomber's name was briefed to the US media against the wishes of Greater Manchester Police, hours after Home Secretary Amber Rudd revealed she had told US authorities not to leak material about the atrocity.

In a statement released by the National Police Chiefs' Council, a spokesman for National Counter Terrorism Policing said: "We greatly value the important relationships we have with our trusted intelligence, law enforcement and security partners around the world.

"These relationships enable us to collaborate and share privileged and sensitive information that allows us to defeat terrorism and protect the public at home and abroad.

"When that trust is breached it undermines these relationships, and undermines our investigations and the confidence of victims, witnesses and their families.

"This damage is even greater when it involves unauthorised disclosure of potential evidence in the middle of a major counter-terrorism investigation."

Suicide bomber Salman Abedi Picture: AP
Suicide bomber Salman Abedi Picture: AP
Parts of the bomb believed to have been used in the Manchester bombing
Parts of the bomb believed to have been used in the Manchester bombing
Parts of the bomb believed to have been used in the Manchester bombing
Parts of the bomb believed to have been used in the Manchester bombing

The disclosure is regarded as "completely unacceptable" by Britain, because of the distress it may cause families of those killed or injured and because of the risk it could complicate investigations.

The row - which goes to the heart of the close intelligence-sharing relationship between the transatlantic allies - provides an awkward backdrop to the Prime Minister's meeting with President Trump at the Nato summit in Brussels.

A Whitehall source said: "We are furious. This is completely unacceptable.

"These images leaked from inside the US system will be distressing for victims, their families and the wider public.

"The issue is being raised at every relevant level by the British authorities with their US counterparts."

The new pictures show torn scraps from a blue rucksack as well as screws and nuts used as shrapnel and a metal item which the newspaper suggests could have been part of the bomb's detonator.

The NYT described them as "law enforcement images" but did not make clear how they had been obtained.

The nature of the photographs - one of which includes a ruler placed alongside the detonator - left no doubt that they were taken as part of the forensic investigation of the scene, and were not snapshots taken by members of the public.

The paper also published a map showing the location of the victims of the bombing, positioned in a circle around the site of the explosion in the arena foyer, as well as what is thought to be Abedi's torso some distance away.

Speaking on Wednesday morning, before the publication of the photos, the Home Secretary said she did not believe the Americans had compromised the investigation with the early release of information including the numbers of casualties, the name of the bomber and suspicions he was not acting alone.

But she added: "Quite frankly, the British police have been very clear that they want to control the flow of information in order to protect operational integrity, the element of surprise, so it is irritating if it gets released from other sources and I have been very clear with our friends that that should not happen again."

Parts of the bomb believed to have been used in the Manchester bombing
Parts of the bomb believed to have been used in the Manchester bombing

Greater Manchester metro mayor Andy Burnham said that a decision had been taken early in the investigation to be cautious about putting information into the public domain.

He tweeted: "Complained to acting US Ambassador about leaks out of US and was assured they would stop. They haven't. Arrogant, wrong and disrespectful to GM (Greater Manchester)."

Congressman Adam Schiff, a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, said: "If we gave up information that has interfered in any way with their investigation because it tipped off people in Britain - perhaps associates of this person that we identified as the bomber - then that's a real problem and they have every right to be furious."

Britain's intelligence links with the US are among the closest in the world, and information is routinely shared by security and intelligence agencies as part of the special relationship between the transatlantic allies.

On Thursday morning the BBC reported that Manchester police are no longer sharing information with the US following the leaks.

Press Association

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