FORMER Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a personal intervention in the case of a Scottish computer hacker who the Americans want to try for spying, secret diplomatic cables obtained by Wikileaks have revealed.
The latest revelations show Mr Brown secretly attempted to strike a deal to allow Gary McKinnon to serve any prison sentence he might receive in Britain, citing concerns about the Scot's health.
But the former Labour leader was rebuffed when he suggested the computer hacker could plead guilty in return for not being extradited to the United States.
Glasgow-born Mr McKinnon, who suffers from Asperger's syndrome, has been the subject of numerous deportation cases after he allegedly hacked into Nasa's computer system.
While searching, he claims, for evidence of a cover-up on UFOs, Mr McKinnon managed to break into secret military files, it is claimed.
He became the first case in a deportation agreement signed between former PM Tony Blair and former US Presidetn George W Bush set up to hand over terrorist suspects. The revelation about the move by Mr Brown was contained in a secret cable from Louis Susman, the US ambassador in Britain, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last year.
Mr Susman wrote: "PM Brown, in a one-on-one meeting with the ambassador, proposed a deal: that McKinnon plead guilty, make a statement of contrition, but serve any sentence of incarceration in the UK.
"Brown cited deep public concern that McKinnon, with his medical condition, would commit suicide or suffer injury if imprisoned in a US facility."
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Then in October last year, the ambassador warned Mrs Clinton that the prime minister was likely to raise the issue again during her visit to the UK.
"McKinnon has gained enormous popular sympathy in his appeal against extradition; the UK's final decision is pending," he wrote. "The case has also caused public criticism of the US-UK extradition treaty."
News of Mr Brown's attempted deal came as Mr McKinnon's mother, Janis Sharp, gave evidence to members of the Home Affairs Select Committee which is examining extradition law.
She said she was "very surprised and very pleased" to hear that Mr Brown had tried to help her son.
"I wish I had known about that, because he (Brown] would have been given credit for it," she told the committee.
But she also vented her anger at the continued pursuit of her son by the US authorities despite serious concerns over his mental health.
"They (the American] know this is a difficult decision for this government and yet they did not want to give leeway," she said."The fact that people at the top are so intransigent, I find difficult to understand... I believe America wants Gary as an example of computer crime."
Mr Brown was also praised by justice campaigners who question why the extradition agreement to the US is still in place.
Shami Chakrabarti, of Liberty, said: "While it is to Brown's credit that he pleaded with the US on behalf of Gary McKinnon, (Tony] Blair's shame is that the rights of people in Britain were signed away and left to special secret pleadings instead of law.
"No-one should be sent anywhere without evidence in a local court and where justice and mercy suggest dealing with them at home."
However, opposition politicians were less convinced and accused Mr Brown of turning Mr McKinnon into an international political pawn.
Former Conservative shadow home secretary David Davis said: "What this shows is that the effect of the extradition treaty was to make Gary McKinnon a pawn in international politics.
"It shows only too clearly that his fate was being decided by the anger of the American government on the basis of politics rather than by an unbiased judiciary on the basis of facts."
Yesterday the UK government refused to say whether it agreed with Mr Brown and would try to reopen the deal.
Home Secretary Theresa May is expected to make a decision on Mr McKinnon's fate within weeks. The 43-year-old, who suffers from Asperger's syndrome, has admitted hacking into top secret military computers but he said he was looking for evidence of UFOs.
However, both Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg have publicly condemned plans to send Mr McKinnon to the US.
On a recent trip to the US by the Prime Minister President Obama appeared to suggest in a press conference with Mr Cameron that some sort of compromise could be reached.
However it was unclear whether ministers would have much room for manoeuvre if the Americans insist on the deportation taking place.
Campaigners have said extradition rules are one-sided and are being used for offences they were not intended to cover.
If he goes to the US Mr McKinnon could be sentenced to up to 60 years in jail. There were concerns at one point he may also face the death penalty although these have since been dealt with.
Mr Brown's office said that the former Prime Minister would not be putting out any comment on the cable or the McKinnon case.