British police chiefs are seething with sections of the American media and have warned them further leaks in relation to the Manchester terror attack may “undermine their investigation”.
The New York Times was the latest US media organisation to publish sensitive leaked details of the fast-moving investigation when it featured unauthorised photographs and details in a story released on Thursday morning (AEST).
A total of 22 people died in the suicide bomb attack just after an Ariana Grande concert ended, with scores more left wounded.
The publication of the photos from the scene came after the identity of alleged suicide bomber Salman Abedi was first announced on US television networks CBS and NBC.
British police were subsequently forced to confirm his identity to UK media.
“We greatly value the important relationships we have with our trusted intelligence, law enforcement and security partners around the world,” a spokesman for the National Police Chiefs council said.
“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.”
The NYT photos, which it says were gathered by British authorities at the scene of the attack, include the remnants of a backpack, nuts and screws, and a device identified as a “possible detonator”.
The NYT said the apparent evidence suggested “a powerful, high-velocity charge, and a bomb in which its shrapnel was carefully and evenly packed”.
The photos have since been published by UK media.
The leak came just hours after British Home Secretary Amber Rudd expressed her irritation with the US for releasing information about Abedi.
Ms Rudd said she had had told Washington “it should not happen again”.
The official @TerrorismPolice UK Twitter account also posted about the leaks.
Unauthorised disclosure of potential evidence in the middle of a major CT investigation undermines our work & confidence of victims
— Terrorism Police UK (@TerrorismPolice) May 24, 2017
While the British Home Office has declined to officially comment on the NYT leak, the UK news agency Press Association quoted government sources as saying high-ranking officials 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,” PA quoted an unnamed source as saying.
“The issue is being raised at every relevant level by the British authorities with their US counterparts.”
Labour politician Yvette Cooper tweeted: “V troubled by US leaking intelligence UK has given them in middle of live investigation where public safety at risk. What is going on?”
On Wednesday, Ms Rudd was asked whether she would be looking into how information sharing may have resulted in the leaking of details the British police and security services had not wanted released.
“Yes, quite frankly,” she told BBC Radio.
“British police have been very clear 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’ve been very clear with our friends that that should not happen again.”
Also on Thursday afternoon (AEST), British broadcaster Sky News published images of what they believe to be Abedi, wearing a backpack allegedly used in the attack.
– With agencies