Scots computer hacker Gary McKinnon wins 10-year fight against extradition to US as mother welcomes ‘victory for the little person’
THE emotional mother of Scottish computer hacker Gary McKinnon said it was “amazing” to see her son smile for the first time in years, after he finally won his ten-year battle against extradition to the United States.
• Home Secretary announces decision to block Gary McKinnon extradition
• Evidence suggested hacker was at risk of suicide
Janis Sharp, who had campaigned tirelessly for her son, beamed as she praised Theresa May for standing up to the US, saying the decision was a victory for the “little person”.
She praised those who had supported her son’s campaign, adding: “Without people power, of all these different people together, there’s no way Gary would have stayed here. We’ve won for the little person.”
Mr McKinnon was accused by US prosecutors of “the biggest military computer hack of all time”. He says he was simply looking for evidence of UFOs.
The Home Secretary ruled against handing the 46-year-old over to US authorities, under human rights legislation, because there was a high risk he would then attempt to take his own life.
Her decision was derided as “laughable” by former White House counsel David Rivkin and “blatant, old fashioned racism” by supporters of terrorist suspect Babar Ahmad, who was extradited earlier this month.
But human rights campaigners, and friends and supporters of Mr McKinnon, who was born in Glasgow, called the decision a “victory for compassion”.
Ms Sharp said her son, who suffers from Asperger syndrome, was too emotional to speak after hearing the news.
He now faces the possibility of a trial in the UK, with the Crown Prosecution Service to make a decision “as soon as possible”. However, had he been handed over to US authorities, he faced a sentence of up to 60 years in prison.
Mrs May also announced that a “forum bar” would be created, so that in future, courts decided whether suspects should face trial at home or abroad.
Mr McKinnon had been accused of breaking into US military computer systems in an attempt to bring them down.
It is claimed that between February 2001 and March 2002, he hacked into dozens of US army, navy, air force and defence computers, as well as 16 owned by US space agency Nasa.
Speaking at a press conference, after the Home Secretary blocked his extradition, Mr McKinnon’s mother said: “I’m overwhelmed, incredibly happy.
“I want to say thank you to Theresa May, because it was an incredibly brave decision – to stand up to another nation as strong and powerful as America is rare and she had the guts to do it. I always felt she had the strength to do this, and to also change the extradition treaty so hopefully this won’t happen to anybody else.
“It’s absolutely incredible.”
Home Office medical evidence showed it was very likely Mr McKinnon would try to kill himself if he was extradited.
Ms Sharp said: “It’s been a life-saving decision, because Gary doesn’t travel abroad, he doesn’t go on holiday, he very rarely leaves north London, and to be taken from everything you know, your family, everything, thousands of miles away is so terrifying to him.
“I can understand that he felt he would rather be dead.”
The past ten years had been “horrendous” because her son would “just sit in the dark all the time”, Ms Sharp added.
“You saw him shut down and slow down,” she said. “Just the waste of talent.”
She went on: “It’s been awful watching Gary go downhill so badly, but such a relief to watch him smile for the first time in many years, it’s amazing.”
Mrs May’s decision was based on the Human Rights Act. The UK government is consulting on replacing it with a Bill of Rights, which critics fear will water down personal freedoms.
“Mr McKinnon is accused of serious crimes,” Mrs May said. “But there is also no doubt that he is seriously ill. He has Asperger’s syndrome, and suffers from depressive illness.
“After careful consideration of all of the relevant material, I have concluded that extradition would give rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that a decision to extradite would be incompatible with Mr McKinnon’s human rights.
“I have therefore withdrawn the extradition order against Mr McKinnon.”
Her decision was widely welcomed. Mr McKinnon has received cross-party support from the likes of David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Keith Vaz, chair of the home affairs select committee.
Mr McKinnon’s MP, David Burrowes, said: “It’s a life that’s been given back to Gary in a long dark tunnel.”
Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil rights group Liberty, added: “This is a great day for rights, freedoms and justice.”
Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, praised Ms Sharp. “Janis’s relentless campaigning for her son and Gary’s stoicism in the face of some testing circumstances have been truly inspiring,” he said.
Another supporter of the hacker, London mayor Boris Johnson added: “At last, justice and the wellbeing of Mr McKinnon have prevailed.”
However, there was also criticism, including from former home secretary Alan Johnson, who had originally said failing to send Mr McKinnon to the US would be unlawful. He said: “Gary McKinnon is accused of very serious offences. The US was perfectly within its rights, and it was extremely reasonable of them, to seek his extradition.”
He added: “The Home Secretary has made a decision today that’s in her own party’s best interest; it is not in the best interests of the country.”
US lawyer David Rivkin, who served under presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush snr, warned the decision would go down “very badly” in the US.
“It’s really deplorable,” he said. “The justification by the Home Secretary is laughable.
“American prisons and penal institutions have an excellent track record of stopping people who are trying to commit suicide. Under this logic, all a person needs to say to not get extradited is ‘I’m going to kill myself’.”
The family of Mr Ahmad accused the UK government of double standards.
The terrorist suspect, who also has Asperger’s syndrome, was extradited this month. He faces charges including providing material support to terrorists, conspiring to kill people and money laundering.
“Many of our supporters are angry at what appears to be blatant old-fashioned racism, under which all British citizens are equal but some are more equal than others,” Mr Ahmad’s family said yesterday.
Unfolding of events
2001-2002: Between 1 February, 2001 and 19 March 2002, the Glasgow-born computer expert allegedly hacks into 97 US government computers from north London.
Gary McKinnon later denies causing any damage and says he was only looking for files that would prove the existence of UFOs.
2002: Between 19 March and 8 August, Mr McKinnon is interviewed about his hacking by the UK’s National Hi-Tech Crime Unit at the request of the US government.
On 31 October, the District Court of New Jersey in the US issues a warrant for his arrest.
Paul McNulty, US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, says on 12 November: “Mr McKinnon is charged with the biggest military computer hack of all time.”
2004: The court in the Eastern District of Virginia issues another warrant for Mr McKinnon’s arrest on 12 August and, on 7 October, the US government files a request for his extradition.
2005: On 31 March, a warrant for Mr McKinnon’s arrest is issued by Bow Street Magistrates’ Court and officers from Scotland Yard’s extradition unit arrest him at his north London home on 7 June.
2006: The then home secretary, John Reid, signs an order on 4 July for Mr McKinnon to be extradited to the US.
2007: Mr McKinnon loses an attempt to appeal against his extradition at the High Court on 3 April.
2008: The House of Lords, then Britain’s highest court, dismisses a further appeal bid by the computer expert on 30 July and Mr McKinnon – who is diagnosed as suffering from Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, on 25 August – also loses his bid to get the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition on 28 August.
The then home secretary, Jacqui Smith, right, rejects a request from Mr McKinnon’s legal team on 31 September to stop the extradition on the grounds of his Asperger’s diagnosis.
2009: In January, Mr McKinnon wins permission in the High Court to seek judicial review of Ms Smith’s decision and, a month later, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announces that it will not bring charges against him in Britain.
Mr McKinnon makes a bid at the High Court in JULY to force the government into allowing a trial in the UK, challenging the CPS’s refusal to sanction a trial in this country, but two High Court judges refuse to block his removal.
Mr McKinnon’s mother, Janis Sharp, criticises the then home secretary, Alan Johnson, for linking her son to the terrorist attacks of 11 September, 2001, far left, and the deaths of nearly 3,000 US citizens.
In November, the Commons home affairs select committee calls for a “comprehensive review” of the controversial treaty under which Mr McKinnon could be sent for trial while Mr Johnson, as home secretary, rejects a last-ditch appeal for him to block the extradition, saying: “I have no general discretion.”
New Home Secretary Theresa May, right, gives campaigners a glimmer of hope by agreeing his case should be adjourned while medical evidence is considered.
Now Prime Minister, Mr Cameron discusses McKinnon’s case with US president Barack Obama in July, saying he hopes “a way through” can be found.
2011: The government should renegotiate the UK’s extradition treaty with the US to ensure British citizens get the same protection as Americans, the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) says in JUNE.
But in October, a long-awaited review of extradition arrangements by retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Scott Baker finds the current treaty between the US and the UK is both balanced and fair.
2012: The High Court expresses concern in January over the length of time Mr McKinnon’s case in taking and attempts to speed matters up by listing it for a hearing in July.
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