North Korea has described a London-based diplomat who defected to South Korea as "human scum". Thae Yong-ho, a deputy envoy in the secretive dictatorship's UK embassy, was given protection by South Korea along with his family.

The North Korean Central News Agency said that the envoy had been accused of leaking secrets, embezzlement and child rape.

It said that the UK had been informed of the accusations in June, but instead handed him over to South Korea.

In a comment, the state-run government news agency said: "[Thae] should have received legal punishment for the crimes he committed, but he discarded the fatherland that raised him and even his own parents and brothers by fleeing, thinking nothing but just saving himself, showing himself to be human scum who lacks even an elementary level of loyalty and even tiny bits of conscience and morality that are required for human beings."

It accused the UK of "handing over the fugitives without passports to the South Korean puppets and neglecting its duty to protect diplomats living in its own country".

Thae is the highest ranking diplomat ever to defect from North Korea.

The South Korean Unification Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that Thae had defected for the sake of his family and because he was "tired of Kim Jong-Un's regime".

Sokeel Park, director of research at Liberty in North Korea, a California-based group that helps North Korean refugees, told CNN that the diplomat's family members who remain in North Korea could face punishment.

"At the very least there's going to be suspicion and more surveillance on those family members. This could include any brothers and sisters of the diplomat who defected, extending to cousins and extended relatives," he said.

North Korean diplomat defection
South Koreans watch archive footage of North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-Ho on a news programme following his defection Getty images