04:38, January 24 229 0 theguardian.com

2020-01-24 04:38:04
Harry Dunn family condemns US rejection of Anne Sacoolas extradition request

Donald Trump has been accused of taking a wrecking ball to the US-UK special relationship after Washington rejected a British government request to extradite Anne Sacoolas, who is accused of killing a teenage motorcyclist.

Harry Dunn died after a crash outside a US military base in Croughton, Northamptonshire on 27 August 2019.

Sacoolas, 42, was charged with causing his death by dangerous driving in December. Agreements between the UK and US about the base mean Sacoolas, as the wife of an intelligence agent on the site, had diplomatic immunity. She returned to the US after the crash, and the extent of co-operation by British officials in her departure is one of many controversies of the case.

The Home Office described the decision by the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, to reject an extradition request as a “denial of justice”.

The decision was relayed to the home secretary, Priti Patel, late on Thursday.

A spokesman for the Dunn family claimed Trump was determined to protect Sacoolas from the outset and said it was the first time the US had rejected such an extradition request by the UK.

Radd Seiger, the family spokesman, said: “This administration is heaving lawlessly and taking a wrecking ball to one of the greatest alliances in the word. This is a lawless, corrupt administration that appears intent on attacking even its closest international ally.”

He urged the British government to meet the family to discuss the next steps, but seemed to acknowledge Sacoolas would not be returning to face charges of causing death by dangerous driving, at least until a new administration was elected in Washington. He said: “This administration will go away, but this extradition request will never go away.”

Boris Johnson had foreshadowed the decision in a new year interview, but politically it is a blow to his claim, before trade talks, that a close political relationship with Trump will bring the UK privileged results.

The Home Office said: “We are disappointed in this decision, which appears to be a denial of justice. We are urgently considering our options.”

The Dunn family’s constituency MP, Andrea Leadsom, will meet the US ambassador to London, Woody Johnson, on Friday to discuss the extradition request, and is expected to report her discussion to the Dunn family.

In its statement refusing the UK extradition request, the US state department said Sacoolas had immunity from criminal jurisdiction throughout her stay in the UK.

“If the United States were to grant the UK’s extradition request, it would render the invocation of diplomatic immunity a practical nullity and would set an extraordinarily troubling precedent,” it said.

The US president has called the crash a “terrible accident”, saying it was common for Americans in Britain to have difficulty driving on the left side of the road.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Seiger said: “History was made last night. It is the first time the US has turned down a UK extradition request. It is one of the darkest days in the history of this special relationship. Boris Johnson wanted to be prime minister and he is now being tested severely. I am expecting him to come today to meet me and the family and tell us what he is going to do about it.

“Is the US position now is that it is OK for their service personnel to come over to the UK and kill British citizens and get on the next plane home? There is not a single person round here who is going to stand for that.”

He also claimed scores of other people had been killed or seriously injured in recent years due to inexperience of driving on the left. Official figures show 32 had been killed between 2015 and 2018, and more than 400 seriously injured.

US commanders at the Croughton listening base have instigated driving refresher courses in an effort to prevent American servicemen and women forgetting to drive on the left. Northamptonshire police have offered free courses to US personnel.

The Dunn family, who have met Trump in the White House to discuss their plight, had been a seeking judicial review of the claim that Sacoolas had diplomatic immunity, arguing that the agreement between the UK and US over the base either did not give staff that status, or that if it did the agreement was in breach of the Vienna convention covering diplomatic immunity.

The Foreign Office has warned it will seek costs against the Dunn family over any judicial review since it was normal to protect taxpayers’ money in this way. The Dunn family claim the costs threat is an attempt to suppress their attempts to find the truth, including the interactions between the Foreign Office, the US embassy and the Northamptonshire police.

One of the barristers acting for the Dunn family tweeted: “Even if Sacoolas had immunity whilst she was in the UK, everyone seems to accept she doesn’t have it now. There is therefore no reason arising from international law that the request is an ‘abuse’ or for it to be refused.”