Harry Dunn's alleged killer 'never had diplomatic immunity', High Court hears

11 November 2020, 17:39

Harry Dunn was killed when his motorbike was hit outside RAF Croughton
Harry Dunn was killed when his motorbike was hit outside RAF Croughton. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Harry Dunn's alleged killer Anne Sacoolas was never entitled to diplomatic immunity, the High Court has heard.

Mr Dunn, 19, was killed when his motorbike crashed into a car being driven on the wrong side of the road by American Ms Sacoolas outside RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire on August 27 last year.

Ms Sacoolas, whose husband Jonathan Sacoolas worked as a technical assistant at the base, left the country a few weeks later after the US said she was entitled to diplomatic immunity.

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The 43-year-old was ultimately charged with causing death by dangerous driving last December, but an extradition request was rejected by the US State Department in January - a decision it later described as "final".

Mr Dunn's parents, Charlotte Charles and Tim Dunn, claim the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) wrongly decided Sacoolas had diplomatic immunity and unlawfully obstructed Northamptonshire Police's investigation into their son's death by keeping the force "in the dark".

Anne Sacoolas left the country after Harry Dunn's death
Anne Sacoolas left the country after Harry Dunn's death. Picture: Facebook

Ms Charles and Mr Dunn initially also took legal action against Northamptonshire Police but that claim was dropped in July, with the family's spokesman saying the force had been "absolved of any blame".

In 1995, the UK agreed to an American request to include staff at RAF Croughton on the diplomatic list, but asked the US to waive the immunity of administrative and technical staff in relation to "acts performed outside the course of their duties".

The FCDO says that waiver only applied to staff at RAF Croughton and not their family members, meaning Anne Sacoolas did have immunity at the time of the crash.

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But, at a remote hearing on Wednesday, Sam Wordsworth QC - representing Ms Charles and Mr Dunn - said Sacoolas had "no duties at all" at the base and therefore "never had any relevant immunity for the US to waive".

Mr Wordsworth told the court that, under the 1995 agreement, "the US agreed to waive the immunity of the administrative and technical staff from criminal jurisdiction in respect of acts performed outside the course of their duties".

The barrister added: "It follows that administrative and technical staff at RAF Croughton were only ever entitled to a limited immunity.

"Mrs Sacoolas could and did only derive her immunities and privileges from Mr Sacoolas in circumstances where no immunity from criminal jurisdiction was conferred on Mr Sacoolas in respect of acts performed outside the course of his duties.

"Mrs Sacoolas, likewise, had no such immunity, hence she was not immune with respect to the criminal proceedings at issue in this case."

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Geoffrey Robertson QC - also representing Ms Charles and Mr Dunn - earlier said the FCDO "took upon itself the authority to resolve the question of immunity and ultimately and unlawfully decided to accept the US embassy's decision that Anne Sacoolas had immunity".

He said that decision "obstructed the police by preventing any effective further progress in its investigation into Harry's death and likely prosecution of Anne Sacoolas".

Mr Robertson argued the FCDO "tacitly accepted the Sacoolas family's departure from the UK", referring to a text message sent to a US embassy official on September 14 2019 - a day before Sacoolas and her family left the UK.

The message read: "I think that now the decision has been taken not to waive (immunity), there's not much mileage in us asking you to keep the family here.

"It's obviously not us approving of their departure but I think you should be able to put them on the next flight out."

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Mr Robertson added that it would be "absurd" for family members to have "greater privileges and immunities" than the staff at RAF Croughton "from whom their immunity flows".

In written submissions, the FCDO's barrister, Sir James Eadie QC, said: "As a matter of international and domestic law, Mrs Sacoolas automatically had diplomatic immunity as the spouse of a member of the administrative and technical staff of the US mission."

He argued the FCDO "plainly did not obstruct the police investigation", adding: "On the contrary, the Secretary of State sought to assist the police investigation, including by requesting a waiver of Mrs Sacoolas's immunity."

Sir James told the court the US "expressly waived the immunity from the UK's criminal jurisdiction of 'employees' or 'staff members'", but "at no point is there a waiver of the immunity enjoyed by the families of such individuals".

He also said the FCDO officials had "objected in strong terms" to Sacoolas leaving the UK, and "repeatedly emphasised" that the department "wanted the Sacoolas family to co-operate with the UK authorities".

Sir James added that the person who sent the text message to a US embassy official last September "had the previous day informed the recipient in person of the UK's strong objections to the US's intended course of action, but it was clear that there was no realistic prospect of convincing the US to change its approach".

Sir James will begin his oral submissions on behalf of the FCDO on Thursday morning.