Harry Dunn loss of life: Johnson and Biden talk about digital trial for US diplomat’s spouse

Britain is pressing for the wife of a US diplomat to go on virtual trial over the death of Harry Dunn, who was killed when a car crashed into his motorbike outside a US military base in Northamptonshire two years ago.

The UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, is pursuing the idea of a virtual trial, which would possibly allow Anne Sacoolas to face some form of punishment in the US rather than being extradited back to the UK. The solution was proposed at a meeting on Thursday between the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, and the US president, Joe Biden.

Radd Seiger, the lawyer for Dunn’s family, greeted the proposal as a huge development

Raab referred to either a virtual trial or process, so it is not clear that the outcome would lead to Sacoolas facing a possible jail sentence in either the UK or the US, something she has resisted. She has been charged with causing death by dangerous driving, but the US embassy pleaded diplomatic immunity and took her and her family out of the UK days after the crash without informing Northamptonshire police.

Sacoolas’s lawyer, Amy Jeffress, has previously said her cleint is willing to do community service in the US and pay compensation.

She has also said that because the charge pending against Sacoolas in Britain would not usually result in a prison sentence in the US, her client – who has children of her own and is believed to have had a career in intelligence – was not inclined to return to the UK to face trial.

Sacoolas has apologised, saying it was an innocent tragedy caused by her driving on the wrong side of the road after only having been in the UK for a few weeks. She stayed at the scene of the accident and cooperated with the police.

Johnson said on Thursday that Biden was “actively engaged” and “extremely sympathetic” about the case after a face-to-face meeting at the G7 summit in Cornwal. Bidenlost his wife and daughter in a road accident in 1972.

Raab told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The US has not agreed to the extradition, but the path is clear for the legal authorities in the UK to approach Anne Sacoolas’s lawyers – without any problem from the US government – to see whether some kind of virtual trial or process could allow some accountability and some solace and some justice for the Dunn family.

“I would like to see some accountability. I think the family deserves no less.”

Floral tributes on the roadside near RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire, at the spot where Harry Dunn was killed.
Floral tributes at the spot where Harry Dunn was killed near RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire. Photograph: Lindsey Parnaby/AFP/Getty Images

There will, however, be different expectations between the Dunn family and the Sacoolas lawyers about what form of retribution or punishment she should face. The US state department rejected an extradition request in January 2020, and the Biden administration has said it will not reverse the decision.

Seiger said of the Dunn family: “This campaign has never been about vengeance and retribution, but about accountability for the loss of their totally innocent son. That is what any of us would want, and that is what must now be delivered. There must be meaningful justice.”.

He also stressed that it would be the Crown Prosecution Service that approached Sacoolas’s lawyers about the next steps in the criminal case.

Speaking after the meeting between Biden and Johnson in Cornwall, Dunn’s mother, Charlotte Charles, said: “We are incredibly grateful that Harry’s case is being taken so seriously as to be raised on the eve of the G7 meeting with so many worldwide crises going on.

She was sharply critical of the way in which Donald Trumphad arranged a meeting with the Dunn family at the White House without prior notice, and then tried to spring a reconciliation meeting on them with Sacoolas, who was made to wait in an adjoining room.

“We have been working incredibly hard behind the scenes, having dialogue with as many people on both sides of the Atlantic as possible, and believe that these efforts will help us in our search for justice,” Charles said.

“It is almost two years since we lost Harry in August 2019 and it would be lovely to think that all parties can now come together to help bring this living nightmare to an end so that we can try to rebuild our shattered lives.”

After discussing the matter with Biden, Johnson told the BBC: “As you know, he has his own personal reasons for feeling very deeply about the issue, and he was extremely sympathetic, but this is not something that either government can control very easily because there are legal processes that are still going on.”

The Dunn family has pursued every legal avenue to bring Sacoolas to justice, including a judicial review to show that the UK Foreign Office was wrong to think that as the wife of a serving US intelligence officer at RAF Broughton she had diplomatic immunity at the time of the crash. The case is expected to go before the court of appeal next year.

Charles and Dunn’s father, Tim Dunn, have also brought a civil claim for unspecified damages against Sacoolas and her husband in the US state of Virginia. It would represent a complex compromise if a formal UK legal process occurred virtually, and then the sentence was served in the US.

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