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'A huge step': US suspect charged over death of teenage motorcyclist Harry Dunn

Anne Sacoolas claimed diplomatic immunity after the crash which killed Harry Dunn on 27 August.

Harry Dunn
Harry Dunn
Image: PA Images

Updated Dec 20th 2019, 3:25 PM

A US SUSPECT granted diplomatic immunity after a crash which killed teenage motorcyclist Harry Dunn has been charged with causing death by dangerous driving.

Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a US intelligence officer, returned to her home country after the car she was driving allegedly collided with the 19-year-old’s motorbike outside RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire on 27 August.

The 42-year-old suspect sparked an international controversy after claiming diplomatic immunity – despite the Foreign Office later saying Sacoolas’s husband was not a registered diplomat in a recognised role.

Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, families of diplomats are granted immunity from arrest or detention, with the sending state able to issue a waiver of that immunity.

According to the Crown Prosecution Service, the immunity does not apply to dependants of consular officials based outside of London.

The force eventually passed the completed file of evidence to the prosecution service on 1 November – with Wednesday’s charging decision coming just under seven weeks later.

Sacoolas was twice interviewed by Northamptonshire Police – once on the day after the crash, and on another occasion by officers who travelled to the US.

Extradition between the US and the UK is governed by a treaty signed by both countries in 2003, and requests prepared by the CPS are sent by the Home Office to the requested state – in this case the US – through the diplomatic route.

harry-dunn-death The family of Harry Dunn outside the Ministry for Justice in London. Source: David Mirzoeff/PA Wire/PA Images

Harry’s death was the start of three months’ worth of separate legal battles for the teenager’s family – a judicial review against the Foreign Office, a referral of Northamptonshire Police to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), an investigation into the US administration’s handling of the case and a civil claim against Sacoolas herself.

Since the investigation into the teenager’s death was launched, the family have taken their fight to the US and even met President Donald Trump at the White House.

The meeting with Trump also sparked controversy after it later emerged that Sacoolas was sat in the room next door ready to meet with Harry’s parents – an offer the teenager’s family refused.

The decision to charge the suspect came just days after Charles was left “utterly devastated” by footage which showed Sacoolas reversing out of her driveway at her home in the state of Virginia.

Reaction

Harry Dunn’s mother described the decision to charge Anne Sacoolas with death by dangerous driving as a “huge step” towards seeking the justice she had promised her son.

Speaking outside the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) headquarters in London, Charles looked visibly emotional as she told how the family’s efforts to “seek justice” since her son’s death in August had been harder than she had imagined.

“We feel that we have made a huge step in the start of achieving the promise to Harry that we made,” she said.

“We made that promise to him the night we lost him to seek justice thinking it was going to be really easy,” she said. 

“We had no idea it was going to be so hard and it would take so long but we feel it is a huge step towards that promise we made Harry.”

On Friday afternoon, Chief Crown Prosecutor Janine Smith said the CPS had authorised Northamptonshire Police to charge Sacoolas.

“The Director of Public Prosecutions has met with Harry Dunn’s family to explain the basis of the decision we have made following a thorough review of the evidence available,” she said.

“May I remind all concerned that criminal proceedings against Anne Sacoolas are now active and that she has a right to a fair trial.

“It is extremely important that there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings.”

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