In case that became international dispute, U.K. judge sentences U.S. intelligence officer who killed British teen


LONDON — A lawsuit over a tragic traffic accident that has turned into an international diplomatic dispute, requiring the attention of two US presidents and three British prime ministers, ended on Thursday. with a British judge sentenced American driver Anne Sacoolas to eight months in prison, with a suspended term, meaning essentially no jail time.

Sacoolas, 45, previously pleaded guilty to “careless driving” that led to the death of British teenager Harry Dunn.

The incident created a rift between the US and the UK, because Sacoolas – who was married to a US intelligence official and possibly one herself – was evicted from the country three weeks later. accident, with the US government granting her diplomatic immunity and denying Britain’s extradition request.

Negotiations between the parties resulted in the UK’s first case in which the defendant joined via video link in lieu of extradition. But while this has never been the case, its many peculiarities make it unlikely to set a precedent.

In the courtroom on Thursday, Sacoolas’ British lawyer, Ben Cooper, released a statement from his client apologizing for her “tragic mistake”.

“I live with this regret every day. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of Harry, and I am deeply sorry for the pain I have caused,” the lawyer read, according to reporters inside the courtroom.

Justice Bobbie Cheema-Grubb criticized Sacoolas for not appearing in person for sentencing, saying there was “very little reason” for her not to show up at the Old Bailey.

Sacoolas’ attorney said she was not seeking diplomatic immunity – suggesting that it was the US State Department that intervened.

Harry Dunn’s mother, Charlotte Charles, walked into the witness area and said: “I was shaken like I was about to burst. I promised Harry in the hospital that we would get justice for him and a mother who would never break her promise to her son. I just want to put my arms around him.”

According to reporters in the courtroom, as soon as she started speaking, Sacoolas, watching from afar, wiped her tears.

She won’t go to jail in the United States, but British courts can change her sentence if she is involved in another fatal crash within the next 12 months.

Sacoolas only recently moved to the UK when on August 27, 2019, she drove her Volvo SUV in the opposite direction on a country road for 20 seconds and collided with 19-year-old Dunn who was riding a motorbike .

On August 27, 2019, British teenager Harry Dunn was killed in an accident involving the wife of a US diplomat. His parents spoke to The Post a year after his death. (Video: William Booth, Alexa Juliana Ard/The Washington Post)

She is in the car with the children, coming home from an evening barbecue at 8:20 pm. She doesn’t drink alcohol. She is not speeding. She remained at the scene. She called for help. She cooperated with the police.

On Thursday, prosecutor Duncan Atkinson said that after the “horrific” crash, Sacoolas appeared to be in shock, hands covering his head after realizing what he had done. Her car’s airbag deployed.

The victim lay on the side of the road and begged the first passerby to “don’t let me die”.

Three weeks after the accident, she fled the country and returned home to northern Virginia, while US officials claimed diplomatic immunity on her behalf.

Initial reports called her “a diplomat’s wife” and said her husband, Jonathan Sacoolas, a former US intelligence officer, was stationed at the Royal Air Force base in Croughton.

The conspiracy deepened in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., last year, when her attorney asserted that both Sacoolases were “”work for an intelligence agency of the United States, and that’s why she left.”

Anne Sacoolas, accused of murdering British teenager Harry Dunn, was working for US intelligence, lawyer told court

Dunn’s grieving parents were furious that she had fled from justice. The case was covered by British tabloids. And Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he hoped Sacoolas would return to Britain to face justice.

Then, in October 2019, Charlotte Charles and Tim Dunn found themselves invited to the White House to meet President Donald Trump.

They said they would meet anyone willing to help at the time. But the Trump host has his own way of doing things.

While they were in the Oval Office, he surprised Dunn’s parents by telling them that Sacoolas was in the next room ready to meet. “He said, ‘Let’s cure it,’” Charles recounted in an interview. Interview with The Washington Post. They did not want any part of it, insisting that the case be resolved within the British justice system.

Charlotte Charles and Tim Dunn spoke on August 17, 2020 about their October 15, 2019 White House meeting alongside the woman involved in their son’s fatal crash. (Video: Alexa Juliana Ard, William Booth/The Washington Post)

In December 2019, British police filed a criminal complaint “Dangerous driving causes death.”

But how to prosecute Sacoolas? The British government requested extradition. The Trump administration says no.

President Biden will also be caught up in the incident. His administration said early in his term that it would not reconsider the extradition of Sacoolas. But Johnson said he raised the issue with Biden in June 2021, during the G7 summit in the UK.

Johnson, whose wife and first daughter died in an auto accident, expressed “great sympathy,” Johnson said. But the US president ultimately remained unmoved.

When Sacoolas pleaded guilty this fall – to the lesser charge of “causing death by reckless driving” – she pleaded guilty via video link from the US.

While defendants in criminal cases in the UK are allowed to appear via video, especially during the pandemic, most have done so from inside prisons.


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