Harry Dunn’s family don’t want to see Anne Sacoolas in British jail: Ben Keith comments in The Times

The American woman accused of killing Harry Dunn in a car crash should serve any jail sentence in the United States if she is convicted at her forthcoming trial in London, his family has said.

An adviser to Dunn’s parents said it would “break their hearts” if Anne Sacoolas were separated from her family after pleading guilty or being convicted over their son’s death.

The 19-year-old motorcyclist died in a collision with a car driven by Sacoolas in Northamptonshire nearly three years ago.

Dunn’s parents, Charlotte Charles and Tim Dunn, voiced their view amid uncertainty over whether Sacoolas would appear via video link to face a charge of causing death by dangerous driving. The offence carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

On Monday prosecutors announced that Sacoolas, 44, would remotely attend a hearing on January 18 at Westminster magistrates’ court. However, her lawyers, from the American law firm Arnold & Porter, clouded the position several hours later by saying there was “no agreement at this time” for their client to appear at the hearing.

English legal experts told The Times yesterday that the circumstances of the case were unique and involved grey areas of law that meant there were significant hurdles to Sacoolas serving a sentence in the US if she were to plead guilty or be convicted after a trial.

Sacoolas is accused of killing Dunn in August 2019 while allegedly driving on the wrong side of the road near RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire, a base which is used by the American military. After the incident, the US government said that Sacoolas had diplomatic immunity. She and her husband left Britain shortly after the crash.

Speaking to The Times yesterday, Radd Seiger, a retired lawyer who advises the Dunn Family, said that the parents were confident that Sacoolas would appear next month via video link at the hearing. He added that the Crown Prosecution Service had confirmed her attendance after Sacoolas’s lawyers cast some doubt over her appearance.

“The CPS doesn’t make statements like this if something is not going to happen,” Seiger said. The announcement that Sacoolas would attend the hearing had “not come out of the blue” to the family. “This is the culmination of two and a half years of work,” said Seiger, who maintained that a year ago the incoming Biden administration in Washington “had indicated that there would be a change of approach” to Sacoolas’s position. The Dunn family adviser went on to say that if Sacoolas pleaded guilty or were convicted of the killing, the parents would want her to serve any sentence in the US. “They would not support at all separating her from her family in the US,” Seiger, adding that were to happen it “would break their hearts”.

Ben Keith, who is an extradition law specialist barrister in London, described the developments around the Dunn case as “unusual to the point of being unique”. He pointed out that the present official position in Washington was that Sacoolas retained diplomatic immunity.

The US government has previously insisted that Sacoolas, who is married to a CIA operative, had diplomatic immunity from prosecution and would not be extradited.

Keith said there was a possibility that if Sacoolas were sentenced she could serve the term in the US under provisions of the Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons. This is an international treaty that has been in force since 1985 and has been ratified by 66 countries including Britain and the United States. However, Keith added that a “stumbling block” was that the US had not signed an “additional protocol” to that convention that covered fugitives and which could technically be applied to Sacoolas.

Keith also raised questions over the apparent lack of legal representation for Sacoolas in the UK, although the firm of Arnold & Porter has a London office and could instruct criminal law counsel.

Ben Keith is a leading barrister specialising in Extradition and International Crime, as well as dealing with Immigration, Serious Fraud, and Public law. He has extensive experience of appellate proceedings before the Administrative and Divisional Courts, Criminal and Civil Court of Appeal as well as applications and appeals to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and United Nations. He is ranked in Chambers and Partners as a band 1 leader in the field of Extradition at the London Bar and in the Legal 500 as a Tier 1 leading individual in international crime and extradition. Ben recently won the International Pro Bono Barrister of the Year in November 2021.