The Metropolitan Police is examining allegations of war crimes made against Saudi Arabia just as Theresa May is preparing to visit the country on a trade mission.
The Prime Minister began a three-day trip to the Middle East on Monday designed to strengthen trade and security ties as Britain prepares to quit the European Union.
But the potential for embarrassment arose when it was revealed detectives were looking into an accusation of war crimes made against the Saudis relating to the war in Yemen.
The conflict began in March 2015 after Houthi rebels drove the government out of the capital Sana’a, sparking an intervention by Saudi Arabia and its allies to support the internationally-recognised government.
More than 7,600 people have been killed so far in the fight for control between forces loyal to President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and those allied to the rebels, while the UN human rights office said the Saudi-led air campaign was responsible for 60 per cent of civilian deaths—almost 2,300 lives.
Scotland Yard confirmed its war crimes unit was conducting a "scoping exercise" to decide whether it could identify a suspect and begin an investigation.
A Met spokesman said: "On Thursday 30 March 2017, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) received a referral of an allegation of war crimes, made against Saudi Arabia, committed in Yemen.
"Following receipt of the referral, the MPS war crimes team (part of the Counter Terrorism Command) began a scoping exercise and contacted those making the allegations.
"There is no investigation at this time, and the scoping exercise continues."
The Met's war crimes team is responsible for investigating all allegations of war crimes, genocide, torture and crimes against humanity.
Ms May is to visit Jordan on Monday, and Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia is the UK's largest trading partner in the Middle East, with goods and services exports totalling £6.6 billion in 2015. Talks will focus on stronger ties following the vote for Brexit.
The PM has faced repeated calls to suspend arms sales to Riyadh amid claims of widespread human rights abuses in Yemen during the coalition bombing campaign it is leading, which includes Jordan.
Britain has continued to allow arms sales, with more than £3.3 billion of exports since the bombing began.
Additional reporting by agencies
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