The UK government says it has reached a deal with the United States to change the diplomatic immunity rules that meant an American woman charged with causing the death of a British teenager in a road accident has not had to return to face trial.
The UK and US agreed to revise an “anomaly” that allowed Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a former US diplomat, to leave Britain after 19-year-old Harry Dunn was killed, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced Wednesday.
“It’s important that we have now agreed with the US new arrangements that have closed the anomaly that led to the denial of justice in the heartbreaking case of Harry Dunn. The new arrangements mean it could not happen again,” Raab said.
“I know these changes won’t bring Harry back, and I appreciate the pain and suffering the family are still going through, but I hope this may bring some small measure of comfort to them, because I know they want to prevent any other family going through the same ordeal they have,” he added.
Sacoolas, the driver of the car that killed motorcyclist Dunn, claimed diplomatic immunity after the crash outside RAF Croughton, a central England military base controlled by the US Air Force. According to police, the vehicle that hit Dunn’s motorbike was driving on the wrong side of the road.
Britain’s attempt to extradite Sacoolas to face charges of causing death by dangerous driving was declined by US authorities, and the incident has sparked an ongoing diplomatic row between the two countries, involving both leaders.
Under the terms of the revised agreement, family members of staff based at RAF Croughton will no longer be given immunity from criminal jurisdiction and will face criminal prosecution where applicable.
While the agreement does not guarantee the return of Sacoolas to the UK, Dunn’s family say they remain committed to campaigning for her return.
Speaking to the BBC on Wednesday, the family’s spokesman, Radd Seiger, said they welcome this “giant step,” which comes ahead of the one-year anniversary of Dunn’s death.
End to ‘special arrangements’
Raab explained in his statement that the status of US staff at RAF Croughton had been “the subject of special arrangements between the UK and US governments,” dating back to 1995.
“Those arrangements contained a waiver of immunity from criminal jurisdiction for US staff outside the course of their duties, but there was no such waiver for their family members,” he said.
Raab said the US waiver of immunity from criminal jurisdiction was now expressly extended to the family members of US staff at Croughton, “ending the anomaly in the previous arrangements and permitting the criminal prosecution of the family members of those staff, should these tragic circumstances ever arise again.”
It will also extend to embassy staff outside their official duties, not just administrative and technical staff, he added.
On Sunday, ahead of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to the UK, Raab expressed his regret at the US government’s failure to cooperate with Sacoolas’ extradition request, telling Sky News that it was unlikely the US would change its position.
“I raised it with Mike Pompeo this week … they’ve been adamant throughout that they will not return her,” Raab said.
“Ultimately, we can call on the US to do the right thing and we hope that they will, but I think realistically, given the consistent position that they’ve taken, they’re not going to allow Anne Sacoolas [to return],” he added.
Earlier on Sunday, Dunn’s mother, Charlotte Charles, urged the UK government to ensure justice is carried out.
“We need the UK to work really hard with the US government now and bring a closure to this, bring her back and get that justice,” Charles told Sky News.
“It’s so important to feel supported by your own government and, unfortunately, we just haven’t had that,” she added.
Addressing Charles’s remarks, Raab asserted that the UK government is “on the family’s side” and continues to call on US authorities to cooperate.
“There is a denial of justice here, there is an extradition request that is outstanding, and we have called on Anne Sacoolas to return and to our American partners to facilitate that – we’ve done that consistently throughout,” Raab said.
“We’re on the family’s side, we’ve made that clear all along,” he added.
Charles, who wrote to Boris Johnson in early March asking for a meeting, said last month that she and her son Niall Dunn – Harry’s twin – were angered by the UK Prime Minister’s response.
“Having read both his letter to me and to Niall, I cannot begin to express how flat and angry I feel with this cut and paste response,” Charles said in a statement.
“My son was killed by an American citizen, Mr Johnson and his Government let that person go and he doesn’t have the courage to meet with us,” she said, adding “even President Trump saw fit to meet us.”
The prime minister’s letter expressed his “deepest condolences for the tragic loss of your much loved son Harry,” a loss that was “compounded” by the US decision not to waive diplomatic immunity for Sacoolas.
He went on to say that “the next steps in the legal process are a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service,” the public prosecutions agency in England and Wales. Johnson added that he was “determined to improve road safety around RAF Croughton” where the crash took place.
He said he was “taking a close interest in this case” and had asked Raab “to be the lead point of contact with you and the rest of the family.”
In late May, the Dunns announced their intention to bring a criminal case against Raab regarding his handling of the fatal crash. Seiger, the family’s spokesman, told CNN at the time that they were seeking private prosecution and accused Raab of misconduct in public office and perverting the course of justice.