A teenage Brexiteer has stepped forward to claim his part in the publication of leaked diplomatic memos about US President Donald Trump which ran in the Mail on Sunday, saying he fears arrest over the story.
Steven Edginton, 19, has said he was read the private correspondence from the UK ambassador to the US by a “trusted source” last month and worked on the front-page scoop with political journalist Isabel Oakeshott.
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Only Oakeshott was given a byline on the story while Edington’s was left off “given the possible controversy” over his role as a digital strategist for the Brexit Party, he wrote in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday.
He said the story was not the result of a “Brexiteer plot” but his own “honest journalistic endeavour” into how the Civil Service has been preparing for Brexit, from which a source read him the files.
A number of high-profile journalists have expressed doubts about his claims, however. BBC North America editor Jon Sopel tweeted: “I just don’t buy this. This account begs far more questions than it answers.”
Publication of the private cables, which described the Trump regime as “inept” and “insecure”, forced ambassador Sir Kim Darroch (pictured) to leave his post after the US President lashed out over the comments.
It also prompted the Met Police to open a criminal investigation into the leak under the Official Secrets Act and warn editors against publishing the documents, saying to do so could be a “criminal matter”.
Edginton said he has “been looking over my shoulder and on edge with anxiety” since the cables were published on 7 July. He said he believed a man was taking pictures of him while he ate lunch last week.
“Was it the security services? Am I being followed? I will probably never know. It is not hard, however, to see shadows everywhere when you know that police have ordered counter-terrorism specialists to arrest your source.”
He also said Oakeshott believes she has evidence of state surveillance.
He added: “One of her research assistants detected that his Snapchat account had been repeatedly accessed from a location near Gloucester. The GCHQ spy agency is in Cheltenham.”
Edington has previously worked for pro-Brexit campaign Leave Means Leave and The Taxpayers’ Alliance. Prior to that he was a video journalist for right-leaning political website Westmonster.
He described himself as a “19-year-old freelance journalist with a passion for politics” who was “looking for a big project through which to develop my career” in his first-hand account published in the Mail on Sunday.
“I am sorry to disappoint the conspiracy theorists but this was not a Brexiteer plot to topple Sir Kim, nor was it some devilish scheme to torpedo the independence of the Civil Service by installing a political appointee in Washington,” he said. “Instead, it was simply an honest journalistic endeavour.”
He also denied the leak had any connection to the Brexit Party.
He said he has spoken to a “large number of Whitehall sources” over seven months from as part of his investigation – “on my own initiative” – into the Civil Service’s readiness for Brexit.
From this he claimed to have provided exclusive stories to The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Sun online and The Mail on Sunday.
Edington added: “But last month, my investigation took an extraordinary turn when a trusted source read out to me an astonishing letter written by Sir Kim in June 2017 to Sir Mark Sedwill, Britain’s national security adviser.
“In it, Sir Kim branded Trump’s White House ‘inept’ and ‘utterly dysfunctional’. I was shocked by the brutal language from a supposedly impartial diplomat.
“I knew this was a big story – but little did I know just how big.”
Edington has two bylined comment pieces on The Sun website but does not appear to have his name on any articles from The Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph. Press Gazette has contacted the publications about his claim.
The teenager said he would never reveal the name of his source, saying that they did not ask for or receive any money for the tip off.
He wrote: “Do I expect to be arrested? I honestly don’t know. I just hope that in the liberal, free society that Britain is meant to cherish, that police do not go around arresting journalists.
“But there is one thing I know for certain: I won’t tell anyone the name of my source – and never will.”
He added: “I hope the public – and the police – will understand that I cannot betray that extraordinary trust.”
He also said the “draconian over-reaction” to the story has made him “more determined than ever to continue my career as an investigative journalist”.
Journalists took to Twitter to share their responses to Edington’s claims, with a number expressing their doubts over them.
The plot thickens…..but the idea that a 19 year old cub reporter was primarily responsible for the Darroch leak defies belief. After all, this involved a trove of diplomatic cables not a snatched telephone conversation about Ambo views on Trump! https://t.co/Ez1TrgVBAi
— Lionel Barber (@lionelbarber) July 21, 2019
I’m sorry. I just don’t buy this. This account begs far more questions than it answers https://t.co/PruS2OkTCW
— Jon Sopel (@BBCJonSopel) July 21, 2019
Well this all feels very familiar. Ambitious young man carries can for actions of experienced political operatives. I v much hope his ‘mentor’ & employer got him independent legal advice before he put his name to this. Because this story is a messhttps://t.co/aQDZr6xThp
— Carole Cadwalladr (@carolecadwalla) July 21, 2019
This doesn't make sense. The claim here is the leak came from *one* cable being read aloud in a restaurant. But the same story admits *many* cables were published. The original article spoke of a "cache". Were they all read out in a restaurant? Long meal? https://t.co/SmIGcl1dwq
— Hugo Rifkind (@hugorifkind) July 21, 2019
— Isabel Oakeshott (@IsabelOakeshott) July 20, 2019
A Home Office minister refused to deny in Parliament last week that police have been snooping into journalists’ phone data following the leak of the Darroch memos.
Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire