Harry Dunn update: Immunity loophole closed

Harry Dunn's family and spokesperson Radd Seiger
Harry Dunn's family and spokesperson Radd Seiger

The loophole that allowed the woman charged with Harry Dunn’s death to leave the country is to be closed, the government has announced. The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has been in the UK and met with officials from the UK government, including the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab.

Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a CIA agent working at RAF Croughton, was allowed to return to the US after claiming diplomatic immunity following the death of teenage motorcyclist Harry Dunn. She has subsequently been charged with causing death by dangerous driving, however the American government have twice refused to permit extradition proceedings.

Sacoolas was able to leave after the US government claimed she had diplomatic immunity, despite an existing treaty waiving diplomatic immunity for those at the base. However the treaty makes no reference to dependents, leading to disagreements as to whether she had diplomatic immunity or not.

In a written statement to parliament, Raab said: “We have secured the agreement of the US, so that the Croughton arrangements could not in future be used in the same away as in the tragic case of Harry Dunn. These changes took effect by way of an exchange of notes on 20 July.”

He also added that the American base has agree to providing driver training for newly stationed personnel, as well as an increase in signage to remind people to drive on the left.

Dunn family 'humbled' by biking community 

First published on April 22, 2020 by Jordan Gibbons

In August last year, 19-year-old Harry Dunn lost his life after being knocked off his bike. What’s happened since has been a media circus centred on Anne Sacoolas, the woman charged with causing his death by dangerous driving, after she left the country having claimed diplomatic immunity.

Amidst all the of confusion and political squabbles, the simple case of a young lad suffering an untimely death has all but been forgotten. MCN spoke with Radd Seiger, the Dunn family representative, this week about what has happened over the last nine months and what the bereaved family are going to do next.

"First of all I want to say we are just humbled by this community," says Seiger. "And I want to say how touched we are. The support motorcyclists give each other when something goes wrong is extraordinary."

Justice 4 Harry banner

Seiger, a former lawyer who "got sick and tired of defending the bad guys" before becoming a road safety advocate, has been advising the family and speaking on their behalf since shortly after Harry’s death. He has known the family for years and knew Harry from when he was a small boy.

"People might have seen this case and made the mistake of thinking Harry was inexperienced – he wasn’t. He was obsessed with bikes from a young age. He passed his test on his 16th birthday. The day after, the family was due to go on holiday. Harry refused to be driven there – he rode all the way on his scooter, which took him over nine hours. Over the next three years he covered nearly 50,000 miles.

"It’s clear that Harry didn’t make a mistake. How many near misses have we had since Harry died? It’s not about ‘wrong way’ driving it’s about sub-standard driving. I have an American licence and a British one – compared to the UK, the American test is a joke. It took about ten minutes.

"I get pissed off with any road tragedy. I never call them accidents because that implies it wasn’t preventable. What happened to Harry was entirely preventable."

Warning sign near RAF Croughton

At the end of the last century, the CIA wanted to deploy officers to RAF Croughton. To allow that to happen, the British Government asked that anyone coming over waived their right to diplomatic immunity – it’s worth noting at this point that diplomatic immunity was designed to prevent the persecution of diplomats stationed in unfriendly countries, not for people to get away with committing crimes and misdemeanours.

The issue is that the document which enabled the deployment makes no mention of dependents, so while Sacoolas’ husband definitely has no claim to diplomatic immunity, whether she herself had it is a contentious issue. It’s a situation which the Foreign Office’s most senior civil servant, Sir Simon McDonald, described as "highly illogical".

"Most people aren’t lawyers, so this is very complicated but at the centre of it we believe she did not have diplomatic immunity and she was allowed to leave," says Seiger. "What they didn’t expect was motorcyclists to rally round this little family and blow it all out of the water. Even if the family was to become tired of the campaign, we know motorcyclists would pick it up. As well as our quest for justice, we also want some positives to come out of it.

"We want to be sure this never happens to another family. We have a few objectives but mostly we want to focus on changes to the diplomatic immunity laws and also changes within the NHS, so no one else has to wait at the side of the road for 45 minutes before an ambulance arrives."

Radd Seiger - 'Sacoolas will be back'

Radd Seiger

"The bottom line is that this lady did not have diplomatic immunity. We’ve begun the process for a judicial review into the decisions made at the Foreign Office and as part of that, they’ve had to release some documents. What we’ve seen so far are internal memos saying that she didn’t have diplomatic immunity.

"Yet they told Northants police that she did – completely contradicting the memos sent to Government ministers. That’s what we’re challenging in the courts.

"Once the judicial review finds Sacoolas didn’t have immunity, and we’re confident it will, we can renew our campaign to have Sacoolas returned to the UK.

"I keep saying Sacoolas will be back – I don’t say when because it could be years, but I know she will be back."

Diplomatic immunity was "illogical" says Foreign Office's most senior civil servant

First published on April 23 by Jordan Gibbons

Harry Dunn with his motorbike test pass certificate

The British Government let Anne Sacoolas, the woman charged with killing 19-year-old biker Harry Dunn, return to the US because of an "apparently illogical" reading of the diplomatic immunity laws according to the Foreign Office’s most senior civil servant.

The statement by Sir Simon McDonald, the Permanent Under-Secretary and Head of the Diplomatic Service, was given to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and will no doubt recharge the Dunn family hopes of mounting a judicial review into the way the Foreign Office handled the case.

Sacoolas is accused of causing death by reckless driving, however immediately after the accident she claimed diplomatic immunity as the wife of a CIA agent working at RAF Croughton. She was allowed to return to the US but the Crown Prosecution Service has subsequently charged her. However the US Government has refused the extradition request.

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Since then it has emerged that UK Foreign Office lawyers discussed her status with the US State Deparment and accepted their reading of the law, despite advising British ministers there was legal ambiguity about her standing.

Speaking to the Select Committee, McDonald said: "In the case of Harry Dunn, the controversy was over an agreement made at the end of the last century over continuing immunities for US diplomats posted at the Croughton annex.

"In that agreement the American authorities gave a pre-waiver for accredited diplomats so that was the formal position, but that agreement was silent on the rights of their dependents, and that has been the origin of a lot of the dispute. But our legal advice is that when an agreement is silent on something, then what pertained before still applies – i.e. immunity."

McDonald told committee members the interpretation was "illogical" because the lawyers had decided that even though the immunity of the diplomat working at the base had been waived by the US in the agreement, that of the dependent had not. The result is that his wife supposedly enjoyed greater immunity than he did. A subsequent review has concluded this is anomalous and the UK is now seeking to rewrite the agreement.

March 14 Harry Dunn protest cancelled in favour of three simultaneous May 1 rides

First published 3 March 2020 by Jordan Gibbons

A mass ride to the US embassy in London in aid of Harry Dunn on March 14 has been cancelled in favour of three simultaneous trips on Friday May 1 to the US embassy and US consulates in Edinburgh and Belfast. Each group will meet outside their respective embassies at 1pm.

Harry died in August after a collision between his bike and a car outside RAF Croughton, Northants. The driver, Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a US intelligence officer, returned to the US. The US have refused extradition due to diplomatic immunity. More details to follow.

Protest ride for Harry Dunn - riders to congregate at US embassy in London

First published 26 February 2020 by Andy Calton

A protest ride is to be held on Saturday, March 14, in memory of biker Harry Dunn, who was killed in August last year. The Justice4Harry Green Ribbon Campaign Protest Run will meet on Victoria Embankment at 1pm before setting off towards the US embassy on Nine Elms via Parliament Square, Whitehall and Vauxhall bridge.

Harry was killed when riding past RAF Croughton in August last year and it is believed American citizen Anne Sacoolas was responsible for his death after she allegedly drove out of the base on the wrong side of the road. Despite telling the police she had no intention of leaving the country, she flew back to the US days later under the protection of diplomatic immunity.

Hope had been raised for the Dunn family after the CPS decided to charge Mrs Sacoolas late last year and subsequently applied for the right to extradite her. However the family were dealt a further blow after the US State Department denied the UK’s request for extradition.

The only option remaining would be to hold a trial in absentia and, should she be found guilty, she would effectively be unable to travel outside of the US without risk of being brought to the UK to serve her sentence.

Since the incident, footage has emerged of numerous vehicles on the wrong side of the road around the base, including one car turning straight out of the base on to the right hand side of the road. Despite this commotion, little has been done and the Foreign Office has refused requests for a public inquiry.

There has already been a protest outside RAF Croughton (pictured below) but organisers of the London ride are hoping for a far bigger turnout.

Harry Dunn protest at RAF Croughton

Suspect in fatal motorbike crash uses diplomatic privilege to flee country

First published 08 October 2019 by Andy Calton

The family of a motorcyclist who was killed in an accident outside an RAF base are fighting for justice after the named suspect fled the country using diplomatic immunity status.

Harry Dunn, 19, died after colliding with a car that was being driven on the wrong side of the road. Harry was riding on the B4031 Park End, Croughton, Northants, when he was hit by the car.

Northamptonshire Police have named the suspect as Anne Sacoolas, 42, the wife of a US diplomat – who was questioned at the time of the accident on August 27, but who has since fled back to America.

Now the family is fighting for to have Sacoolas brought back to the UK so that the investigation into the collision can continue. Their battle is supported by Foreign Secretary Dominac Raab, and the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

Speaking to the BBC, Johnson said: "I do not think it can be right to use the process of diplomatic immunity for this type of purpose. I hope Anne Sacoolas will come back and engage properly with the processes of law as they are carried out in this country.

"We are raising this with the American Ambassador in the UK, and I hope it will be resolved very shortly. If we can’t resolve it, I will be raising it personally with the White House."

Harry’s mum Charlotte plans to travel to the US

Northants Police said that Sacoolas had agreed not to leave the country when initially questioned. Supt Sarah Johnson confirmed: "We are exploring all opportunities through diplomatic channels to ensure the investigation continues. Harry Dunn’s family deserve justice."

Northamptonshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Stephen Mold, also confirmed that he "had written, in the strongest terms, to the US Embassy urging them to apply the diplomatic immunity waiver."

With extraordinary dignity, Harry’s mother, Charlotte Charles, was interviewed on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme, saying: "[It was] unintentional. She didn’t purposely drive on the other side of the road... if she’d have stayed and faced us as a family we could have found that forgiveness... but forgiving her for leaving, I’m nowhere near."

The US State Department has confirmed that it is in discussions with British officials and is reported to have conveyed its "deepest sympathies" to Dunn’s family following the accident.

A crowdfunding page set up to help raise funds to cover any legal costs has almost reached  £10,000 (gofundme/justice4harry).

What is diplomatic immunity?

Diplomatic immunity is a form of legal protection afforded under the 1961 Vienna Convention.

It states that diplomats and family members are immune from prosecution in their host country, as long as they are not nationals of that country.

However, their immunity can be waived by the country that employs them. Diplomats are obliged to respect the laws of their host country, but the provision can be misused as a 'get out of jail free' card.

Read the latest stories causing a buzz this week in News…

Jordan Gibbons

By Jordan Gibbons

News Editor, owns some old bikes. Should know better.