After agonizing inquest, Harry Dunn's family vows: 'His legacy will continue' as fight for road safety rages on

14 June 2024, 07:28

After agonizing inquest, Harry Dunn's family vows: 'His legacy will continue' as fight for road safety rages on
After agonizing inquest, Harry Dunn's family vows: 'His legacy will continue' as fight for road safety rages on. Picture: LBC

By Lindsey Alder

The death of Harry Dunn shocked the whole country back in 2019 – the 19-year-old was knocked off his motorbike whilst riding on a country road not far from his home on the Oxfordshire Northamptonshire border.

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He was involved in a head on collision with a car driven by American woman Anne Sacoolas – who’d just left a barbecue at the US airbase RAF Croughton… but pulled out onto the wrong side of the road.

I’ve been following this story since the very beginning – I remember reporting in local bulletins about the death of a teenager in a crash.. but it was weeks later the news broke that Mrs Sacoolas had left the UK asserting diplomatic immunity.

Since then, his parents Charlotte and Tim have been through hell and high water to get justice for their son. They went to the White House to meet the then US President Donald Trump, had talks with UK Government ministers and officials, put pressure on anyone they could think of to try and change the situation.

And they did it. After more than 3 years, in December 2022, Anne Sacoolas appeared in court via video link, pleaded guilty to causing Harry’s death by careless driving and was given an eight month sentence, suspended for a year.

Many people thought that would be it, they’d move on with their lives. I knew different, however. I’ve been lucky enough to have this family let me in during their darkest moments and I had no doubt in my mind that they wanted to find out EVERYTHING that happened during that summer August evening , and what led up to it.

We’re nearly 5 years on but this week an inquest was finally held into Harry’s death. It couldn’t start until the criminal case was concluded and then we saw further delays whilst the coroner Anne Pember conducted what she called a “full and comprehensive investigation into the circumstances”.

Harry’s family held out hope that Anne Sacoolas might have a change of heart, that she might appear to give evidence. They knew it was probably too much of a stretch that she’d turn up, but they clung onto the fact that a remote appearance by video link was possible.

5 days before the hearing started, their hopes were dashed after being told she’d declined to give evidence and answer questions. Instead, the court heard two short written statements and the transcript of the one interview she gave to Northamptonshire Police in the States in October 2019.

From a journalistic perspective, the statements gave nothing new. The police interview however gave an interesting insight into the woman who claimed to officers she was “being an open book and co-operating”.

I’ll admit I joined Harry’s family with the angry murmuring and shake of the head in court – this from someone who would take another 3 years to take ownership and responsibility for what she referred to as a “tragic mistake, driving like an American on the wrong side of the road”.

I sat down with Harry’s mum Charlotte after we heard this evidence, and her anger was palpable. One thing that really struck a chord with me was when she said that this was Anne Sacoolas’s last chance to show her children that she wasn’t a bad person, that she’d made a mistake but was now taking responsibility.

“I can’t imagine when her children google her, they’ll find much to be proud of”.

Despite Charlotte’s clear anger with the American woman, she’s dealt with this week with dignity and grace. All the family have. They had to sit in that court and hear that Harry begged people at the scene not to let him die. I can’t imagine how they made it through all those eyewitness accounts, it was tough enough for me to hear – they’re honestly the strongest people I know.

They’ve always said that the inquest would give them the answers they needed about Harry’s last hours and Charlotte told me hearing from those who stopped to help her son meant the jigsaw pieces fitted into place. After everything they had to endure listening to, both Harry’s mum and dad somehow took a positive from it – telling me it was the first time they’d realised that a police officer first on the scene actually knew Harry from stopping to buy coffee regularly at the garage where he worked. It brought them unspeakable comfort to know that someone he knew, not a stranger, was with him whilst he lay on the side of the road waiting for an ambulance to arrive.

I wrote a piece like this for LBC when Anne Sacoolas pleaded guilty. I said at the time that it looked like a physical weight had been lifted off his mum and dad when they got the justice they’d fought for. This week I watched his family being taken back to the darkest night of their lives. I watched them hold hands, wipe away tears and take deep breaths…but then return to the courtroom an hour later, ready to face whatever was coming next. That dignity and courage is rare, but I expected nothing less from Charlotte, Tim and the rest of Harry’s loved ones. Once the coroner had concluded, we hugged outside court and their smiles told me everything – they’d done what they came to do, and they had their answers.

With the inquest over, the focus is now fully on Harry’s legacy. The family, as you may have heard, are furious about what they call the US government’s disregard for safety when it comes to American personnel using UK bases in rural areas across the country. They’ve told me that once the general election is done, they’ll be knocking straight on the door of whoever is in power and demanding a public enquiry to make sure no-one else goes through what they have in the last 5 years.

All I can say is that the next Prime Minister better be ready. The US government better be ready.

Because Harry’s story is not over.

The legacy of a cheeky, vibrant and caring young man who gave the best bear hugs will continue as his family strive to make our roads a safer place for everyone.