British ministers have voiced their anger to American counterparts after photographs apparently showing bloodstained fragments from the Manchester concert bomb were published in the New York Times (NYT).
The pictures appeared a day after the bomber’s name was briefed to the US media against the wishes of Greater Manchester Police, and just hours after Home Secretary Amber Rudd issued a plea to US authorities not to leak material about the atrocity.
The disclosure is regarded as “completely unacceptable” by Britain, both because of the distress it may cause families of those killed or injured and because of the risk it could complicate ongoing 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.”
Ms Rudd said on Wednesday morning she was “irritated” by the early release of Salman Abedi’s name and had made “very clear” to American counterparts that no further leaks should happen.
The Home Office declined to respond to the new leak, but pointed reporters to Ms Rudd’s earlier comments in a clear indication that her stance had not changed.
A Downing Street spokesman made no comment.
The new pictures show torn scraps from a blue Karrimor 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 – allowed no doubt that they were taken as part of the forensic investigation of the scene, and are 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.
The Home Secretary said she did not believe that the Americans had compromised the investigation.
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.”
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.”
The row is a fresh source of embarrassment for the US, a week after the Prime Minister was forced to give assurances that Britain still has confidence in the special relationship amid concerns relating to Mr Trump’s disclosure of classified information to senior Russian officials.
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.