Death of Harry Dunn

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Death of Harry Dunn
Date27 August 2019
Time20:25 BST
LocationB4031 road near RAF Croughton
CauseRoad traffic collision
DeathsHarry Dunn
Burial17 September 2019
InquiriesNorthamptonshire Police
AccusedAnne Sacoolas
ChargesCausing death by dangerous driving

Harry Dunn was a 19-year-old British man who died following a road traffic collision, on 27 August 2019. He was riding his motorcycle near Croughton, Northamptonshire, United Kingdom, near the exit to RAF Croughton, when a car travelling in the opposite direction and on the wrong side of the road collided with him. The car was driven by Anne Sacoolas, the wife of Jonathan Sacoolas, a CIA operative living at the United States Air Force listening station at RAF Croughton,[1] who was employed by the CIA in the US.[2][3][4] Sacoolas admitted that she had been driving the car on the wrong side of the road, and the police said that, based on CCTV footage, they also believed that was the case. Dunn was pronounced dead at the Major Trauma Centre of John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford.

The collision became the centre of an international diplomatic incident after the United States government advised and then assisted Sacoolas to flee the country while claiming diplomatic immunity.[3] On 20 December 2019, the Crown Prosecution Service said that Sacoolas was to be charged with causing death by dangerous driving.


Harry Dunn lived in Charlton, near Banbury.[5] On the evening of 27 August 2019, he died in hospital after a collision with a vehicle while riding his motorcycle on the B4031 road about 400 yards (400 m) from the exit from RAF Croughton.[6] The car was driven by Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a CIA operative[7] working at the United States Air Force listening station at RAF Croughton.[8] Police said they believed the car, a Volvo XC90, had been driven on the wrong side of the road from the base exit,[8] which Sacoolas later admitted.[9][10][11][12][13] Sacoolas had a previous driving infraction in the US state of Virginia in 2006 for "failing to pay full time and attention".[14][15] The BBC reported that the Sacoolas family had only been in the UK for three weeks.[16]

Call handlers for the emergency telephone call categorised Dunn's injuries as category 2, requiring ambulance attention within 40 minutes; the ambulance arrived 43 minutes after the collision. The chief executive of East Midlands Ambulance Service later said that because of a shortage of ambulance crews, the categorisation did not make a difference, because the nearest doctor was far away. Dunn was pronounced dead at the Major Trauma Centre of John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford.[17][18] The funeral of Harry Dunn took place on 17 September[12] followed by cremation at an Oxfordshire crematorium.[19]


An investigation into the collision led by Nick Adderley, the chief constable of Northamptonshire Police, determined, from CCTV records, that a car had been travelling on the wrong side of the road.[20] Sacoolas had cooperated with police at the scene of the crash and was breathalysed. She was interviewed the next day at home and the police said she had cooperated with them. She had said she was driving on the wrong side of the road when she collided with Dunn.[9][10][12][21] Diplomatic immunity was mentioned during the interview, and Northamptonshire Police applied for an immunity waiver later that day.[22]

On 14 September, Foreign Office diplomat Neil Holland texted a U.S. official that "It's obviously not us approving of their departure", but that, since the U.S. was not waiving immunity, "I think you should feel able to put them on the next flight out".[23] On 16 September, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) informed the police that the waiver had been declined and that Sacoolas had left the UK on a US Air Force aircraft.[22] The Telegraph reported that Sacoolas left the country on a 'private' flight which likely took off from the U.S. airbase at Mildenhall.[24]

On 22 October, Adderley confirmed that the suspect was to be interviewed under caution in the United States, at her own request, explaining: "A file of evidence has been handed to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) but... that file is incomplete - you can't complete the file until you have an account from the suspect."[25] On 31 October, police confirmed they had interviewed the suspect and passed the information to the CPS.[26]

Following the police interview with Sacoolas, Dunn's mother told Sky News that the family felt they were "no further forward" and were still "left in limbo"; she also criticised the decision to fly British police to the US.[27] On 1 November the police submitted a file to the CPS, who would evaluate it for a charging decision.[28]

Diplomatic issues[edit]

The collision became the subject of a diplomatic dispute when Sacoolas left the country shortly after the incident and the US embassy said she had diplomatic immunity as the wife of a US agent working in the UK.[8][16][14][29] The Washington Examiner reported that Jonathan Sacoolas did not work for the National Security Agency, and that the Sacoolas family lived in Northern Virginia in the area of the Central Intelligence Agency Langley headquarters.[30]

Dunn's parents were advised by two leading specialist lawyers on diplomatic immunity, Mark Stephens and Geoffrey Robertson. They advised that Anne Sacoolas was not entitled to diplomatic immunity, as her husband was not listed as a diplomat. Furthermore, they contended, diplomatic immunity no longer applied upon Sacoolas's return to her home country; therefore, it would be possible to take civil action in the US courts. The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, also stated that diplomatic immunity no longer applied.[31][32] Dunn's parents, in order to get justice for their son, decided to travel to the US to "fight for change" and seek the return of Sacoolas to the UK.[33]

A photograph, taken at a 10 October press conference, showed President Donald Trump's briefing notes. If asked, the US line on the notes indicated that Anne Sacoolas would not return to the UK, despite the previous intervention of Raab and the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, including a call to the president.[34] In response, Dunn's mother said that the position of the US was, "beyond any realm of human thinking", adding "I'm just disgusted. I don't see the point in Boris Johnson talking to President Trump, or President Trump even taking a call from Boris Johnson. If he'd already made his decision that if it were to be asked and if it were to be raised, the answer was already going to be no."[34]

Parents meeting with Trump[edit]

When Dunn's parents visited the White House on 15 October 2019 to meet with "a senior official", Trump told them that Sacoolas was waiting "in the next room" to meet them, an option they and their lawyer rejected as being too soon, and something that should take place on British soil.[35][36] Trump called his meeting with the Dunn family "beautiful in a certain way." He also said driving on the wrong side "happens to a lot of people" because they "go to Europe and the roads are opposite."[37] It was later alleged that Trump had intended to pay the family compensation, but they refused it: the Dunn family's spokesman reported that the White House meeting ended with the president saying the Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, was "standing by ready to write a cheque", adding: "It was almost as if he let it slip out. When he said: 'We've got the driver [Sacoolas] here', he basically meant we're all going to have a big hug and a kiss and I'll get my treasury guy to write a cheque. That's how it was. On the day it just didn't register with me, but the more I think about those words, the more shocking it is."[38]

Responses by parents and others[edit]

On 15 October the Dunn family announced their intention to start a judicial review action into the advice given by the FCO to Northamptonshire Police regarding the diplomatic immunity of Anne Sacoolas.[12]

On 18 October Dunn's parents said that they expected UK police to charge Sacoolas in connection with their son's death.[39] On the same day it was reported that the UK government had asked Northamptonshire Police to delay informing Dunn's family that the woman involved in the crash had left the country. Dominic Raab stated that the FCO had asked the force to withhold the information "for a day or two".[40] The Dunn family became aware that Anne Sacoolas had left the UK one week later, on 23 September.[12]

In October a review of the diplomatic immunity arrangements at RAF Croughton was commissioned.[41]

On 1 November the case was discussed by Nigel Farage with Trump, by telephone, on his LBC evening talk-show. Trump said that Sacoolas had a "compelling story to tell" when he met her at the White House. Asked if there were circumstances where Sacoolas could return to the UK to face charges, Trump said: "Well, I would have to see what the final facts are... And, I'll take a look at the final facts. She's represented by a lawyer."[42][43]

On 21 November Dunn's parents expressed their disgust with Raab, who had defended the government's decision to seek legal costs from them.[who?] The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said there was not "any reasonably arguable ground of legal challenge" in a legal case Dunn's parents were bringing against them.[44] On 25 November Dunn's father, together with a group of more than 50 others, were, for fire safety reasons, prevented by staff from entering a hustings attended by Raab in East Molesey Methodist Church.[45]

On 25 November Dunn's parents submitted a judicial review of the Foreign Secretary's actions over the extension of diplomatic immunity to intelligence staff and families at RAF Croughton. They stated that UK-US "secret treaties" had been disclosed but the documents did not cover immunity for family members. A FCO spokesman commented "As the Foreign Secretary set out in Parliament, the individual involved had diplomatic immunity whilst in the country under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations."[46]

On 30 November it was reported that Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby had written to the US ambassador in London early in October, asking that the extradition of Anne Sacoolas should not be blocked, but had at the time not received a reply.[47]

In December, Dunn's parents announced they were to file a civil lawsuit in Virginia, where Sacoolas lived, in the hope of compelling her to return to England, turn herself in and face charges. The family's lawyer planned to rely on English common law dating back to 1774, which states that, even though the offence may have been committed in one country, the accused can face charge in another.[48]

On 4 January 2020, groups of protesters, holding signs saying "Justice 4 Harry", gathered outside RAF Croughton. In a strongly-worded statement released by the family, they vowed not to stop demonstrating until "common sense prevails and the US government agrees not to abuse their power again".[49]


On 20 December 2019, the Crown Prosecution Service announced that Sacoolas was to be charged with causing death by dangerous driving and that it was starting extradition proceedings against her. Sacoolas's lawyer Amy Jeffress[50] said: "Anne will not return voluntarily to the UK to face a potential jail sentence for what was a terrible but unintentional accident," adding, "the potential 14-year sentence was not proportionate."[51][52] The Dunn family later met with the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, and their MP, Andrea Leadsom, at their home. Their family spokesman said they were now "incredibly reassured this whole saga will be dealt with under the rule of law".[53][54]

On 10 January 2020, the Home Office formally requested the extradition of Sacoolas to face charges in the United Kingdom.[55] The US State Department's initial response was "The use of an extradition treaty to attempt to return the spouse of a former diplomat by force would establish an extraordinarily troubling precedent" and that the request was "highly inappropriate".[56] On 23 January US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo formally rejected the request for extradition. The family spokesman said they had taken the news "in our stride". The Home Office said the decision appeared "to be a denial of justice". Andrea Leadsom was planning to meet the US ambassador, Woody Johnson, in London on 24 January to discuss the case.[57]

Later developments[edit]

On 18 January 2020, Northamptonshire Chief Constable Nick Adderley requested an urgent meeting with the commander of the military base after footage emerged of another vehicle on the wrong side of the road near RAF Croughton.[58][59] Officers gave details of a separate crash, in October, in which a police vehicle had been struck by a car being driven on the wrong side of the road.[60]

On 9 February 2020, the Mail on Sunday disclosed that Sacoolas was previously involved in espionage with the US CIA.[61] Following the disclosure, which was subsequently confirmed by Sky News, and widely reported by other news outlets, Dunn's mother expressed her family's suspicions that the British government were not fully sharing their knowledge of Sacoolas's past role with them.[61][62] The Times speculated that the UK's prime minister would come under more pressure to meet the Dunn family.[61] The Times also suggested that the disclosure could lead to allegations that the US were giving Sacoolas special protection because of her past activities with the CIA.[61] The New York Post reported that former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt had said that the disclosure might explain why the US had declined to authorise Sacoolas's extradition.[62] The family spokesman called for a public inquiry into the matter.[62]

On 23 February 2020, the Dunn family urged the UK government to refuse the extradition request of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange which was made by the US government until they returned Sacoolas to the UK. They accused the US government of hypocrisy and said that the US had launched an attack on the Special Relationship between both countries.[63][64]

On 18 June 2020, a preliminary hearing of the judicial review brought by the Dunn family took place at the High Court of Justice. In a submission to the court Tony Baldry, former Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister and signatory to the diplomatic immunity agreement covering the base at which Sacoolas' husband worked, stated that the agreement was "limited" and did not cover dependants.[65][66] In a further submission former longstanding diplomat, Sir Ivor Roberts, called the claim that Sacoolas was covered by diplomatic immunity "a palpable absurdity".[67][68]

On 9 July 2020, an adjournment debate on RAF Croughton, in the House of Commons, was led by local Member of Parliament Andrea Leadsom, who focused on Dunn's death and called for the government to intervene and block plans to modify the airbase.[69]

As of August 2020, the Attorney General for England and Wales is considering trying Sacoolas in absentia on a charge of causing death by dangerous driving.[70] The prospect of a virtual trial, an option being considered by the attorney general, received support from the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. [71]

On 9 September 2020, a lawsuit for wrongful death was filed against Sacoolas and her husband in a Virginia federal court. A legal representative of the Dunn family stated: “Given Ms Sacoolas’ refusal to return to the UK, we look forward to bringing this case to a jury of Anne Sacoolas’ peers here in the United States.”[72] The lawsuit alleges that Sacoolas did not notify the emergency services or police after the accident.[73] Also on 9 September, the Dunn family met with Director of Public Prosecutions, Max Hill QC, after which it was reported that Hill had concluded that Sacoolas did not have diplomatic immunity and should not have been permitted to leave the country.[74] However, a High Court ruling on 24 November 2020 concluded Sacoolas did have diplomatic immunity at the time of Dunn's death.[75]

In February 2021, the Virginia court held a hearing for the case against Sacoolas. It was revealed in the court that Sacoolas was an employee of the CIA. This revelation raised doubts about her claim for diplomatic immunity, because under an agreement between the UK and the US in 1995, any administrative and technical staff from the US would not have diplomatic immunity.[76]

When asked why she had refused to return to the UK, Sacoolas' barrister told the court: "Her fear is that with the tremendous media attention she will receive, she’s concerned she will not receive fair treatment with the press and the local community. She is fearful upon her return and concerned and she’s certainly apologetic and accepts full responsibility for causing this accident." The presiding judge T. S. Ellis III replied: "Accepting full responsibility doesn’t mean you run away, it means you stay there and face it. You shouldn’t overplay the full responsibility card."[77] On 16 February 2021 Ellis ruled that Dunn's family would be able to sue Sacoolas for damages, dismissing her argument that holding the proceedings in the UK would be "more convenient". Handing down his judgment, Ellis said: "While it is commendable that defendant Anne Sacoolas admits that she was negligent and that her negligence caused Harry Dunn’s death, this does not equate acceptance of responsibility. ... Full acceptance of responsibility entails facing those harmed by her negligence and taking responsibility for her acts where they occurred, in the United Kingdom."[7] Ellis said he also took into account the "firm support" of Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who had submitted a letter to the court which read: "I strongly support [the Dunn family's] right to bring the case.[78] Other motions, submitted by Sacoolas’ legal team to dismiss the case, would be heard in Virginia on 3 March.[7]

In March 2021 Sacoolas' lawyer Amy Jeffress said that, since the charge pending in Britain against her would not usually result in a prison sentence in the US, her client was not inclined to return to the UK to face trial. Jeffress also said that her client would be willing to undertake community service in the US and make a "contribution" in his memory, as well as meet his family. In reply, Dunn's mother said that Sacoolas must face "the UK justice system". Jeffress claimed reports that Sacoolas had not called for help were untrue, stating she flagged down a motorist who called the ambulance service while she notified police at the military base.[79][80]

Diplomatic immunity for RAF Croughton staff and families[edit]

According to an agreement made between the US and the UK in 1995, US intelligence officers at RAF Croughton were ineligible to claim diplomatic immunity for criminal behaviour outside RAF Croughton, but the officers' spouses and children were considered part of the US embassy and eligible for diplomatic immunity.[81][82] On 22 July 2020, the UK and US governments amended the arrangement to remove immunity from criminal prosecution for the family of US staff. This change was reported not to be retroactive.[83]

The US State Department said the amendment was a "reflection of our especially close relationship" with the UK. The Shadow Foreign Secretary, Lisa Nandy, said that Labour would "push for a full inquiry" into the case.[83]

See also[edit]


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