Harry Dunn parents challenge diplomatic immunity ruling on ‘strong legal advice’

By Josh Payne and Sam Tobin, PA
·6 min read

Harry Dunn’s parents have said they are appealing over the High Court ruling that their son’s killer had diplomatic immunity, after taking “strong legal advice”.

Judges accepted the Foreign Office’s position that US suspect Anne Sacoolas “enjoyed immunity from UK criminal jurisdiction” as part of their judgment, which was handed down on Tuesday.

Mr Dunn, 19, was killed when his motorbike crashed into a car being driven on the wrong side of the road by Sacoolas outside RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire on August 27 last year.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the suspect said they “remain willing to discuss a resolution with the UK authorities” despite Tuesday’s judgment.

Sacoolas, whose husband, Jonathan Sacoolas, worked as a technical assistant at the base, left the country a few weeks later after the US said she was entitled to diplomatic immunity.

She was ultimately charged last December with causing death by dangerous driving, but an extradition request was rejected by the US State Department in January – a decision it later described as “final”.

Speaking about the family’s next steps, Mr Dunn’s mother, Charlotte Charles, told the PA news agency that she hoped Joe Biden would “show us that the US have morals”.

Mrs Charles, and Mr Dunn’s father, Tim Dunn, claimed the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) wrongly decided that Sacoolas had diplomatic immunity and unlawfully obstructed Northamptonshire Police’s investigation into their son’s death by keeping the force “in the dark”.

But, in a High Court judgment delivered on Tuesday, Lord Justice Flaux and Mr Justice Saini said: “Our conclusion is that Mrs Sacoolas enjoyed immunity from UK criminal jurisdiction at the time of Harry’s death.”

The judges also rejected Mrs Charles’ and Mr Dunn’s claim that the FCDO “usurped” the police investigation into their son’s death, finding that officials “sought to assist rather than obstruct Northamptonshire Police in their investigation”.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the judgment “makes clear the Foreign Office acted properly and lawfully throughout”.

Harry Dunn death
Tim Dunn said he is ‘just as angry today as I ever have been’ (Jacob King/PA)

Asked how she felt after the judgment, Mrs Charles told PA: “Just that it’s another blip. It’s just another hurdle that they put in the way.

“We knew that this was a possibility but we always have a plan B.

“Our team, our lawyers were very, very confident right from the very beginning of this campaign that she did not have immunity at the time of the crash when she killed Harry.

“They are still as confident as ever with that opinion. We have the Director of Public Prosecutions behind us with that as well.

“If anything, we are more confident than what we were that she did not have immunity.”

Questioned on whether she is confident about the family’s appeal, she said: “Yes. Round one is done.

“If I have to go 12 rounds I’ll do it. Simple as that.

“So bring on the next round. We’ve got Biden coming into power.

“We hope that he will show us that the US do have morals and that they are better than what we think they are now.

“So bring it on. Let’s start the next assignment.”

Harry Dunn death
Charlotte Charles said she hopes Joe Biden will ‘show us that the US have morals’ (Jacob King/PA)

Also giving his reaction to the judgment on Tuesday, Mr Dunn’s father told PA: “We’re still suffering. It’s difficult to accept this when you’re fighting for it.

“You want the best outcome but sometimes you just have to knuckle down and go again.

“We’ll get there. You wake up and you think of your son and you think ‘Today is going to be the day’ and then when you get the news it’s difficult.

“You want to be strong and you want to fight and I want to speak clearly and say how I feel.

“We’re disappointed in the way we’ve been treated but we go again. We knew this could happen but we’ll keep fighting and keep going.”

Mr Dunn continued: “I still wake up every morning in absolute disbelief that we are in this situation at all.

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Tim Dunn said the family have been humbled by the support they have received from the public (Jacob King/PA)

“It’s bad enough feeling the horrible pain of not having Harry around and missing him, but I can’t believe the governments are putting us through this.

“It all seems so cruel and needless and I am just as angry today as I ever have been but so determined to see it all through until we have justice.”

Mrs Charles and Mr Dunn’s case centred on a 1995 agreement between the UK and the US, granting immunity to administrative and technical staff at RAF Croughton, which the US waived in relation to “acts performed outside the course of their duties”.

At a hearing earlier this month, their lawyers said the FCDO “took upon itself the authority to resolve the question of immunity and ultimately and unlawfully decided to accept the US embassy’s decision that Anne Sacoolas had immunity”.

Sam Wordsworth QC told the court that Sacoolas had “no duties at all” at the base and therefore “never had any relevant immunity for the US to waive”.

But Lord Justice Flaux and Mr Justice Saini found that Sacoolas had diplomatic immunity “on arrival in the UK” under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR) which had not been “expressly waived”, meaning she “had immunity at the time of Harry’s death”.

The judges said: “We do not come to this conclusion with any enthusiasm for the result, but it is compelled by the operation of the VCDR.”

Mrs Charles continued: “It’s obviously disappointing that this court did not find in our favour but we are more focused now than ever on fulfilling our promise.”

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Family adviser Radd Seiger (right) with Harry Dunn’s mother, Charlotte Charles, who said the ruling is ‘just another hurdle’ (Jacob King/PA)

Mr Dunn said the family felt “humbled” by the public support throughout their campaign.

“We feel blessed that people can see who we are and believe in what we are trying to do and believe in what they think is wrong,” he said.

Mrs Charles added: “It’s wonderful to know that Harry is important – not just to us but to everybody else.

“His life did matter. Everyone’s life matters. But yes, it makes us feel quite loved.”

Speaking after the judgment, Mr Raab said: “My thoughts today are with Harry’s family.

“While this judgment makes clear the Foreign Office acted properly and lawfully throughout, I appreciate that won’t provide any solace to the family in their search for justice.

“We stand with them, we’re clear that Anne Sacoolas needs to face justice in the UK, and we will support the family with their legal claim in the US.”

Also making a short statement after the ruling, Sacoolas’s lawyers said: “We have been and remain willing to discuss a resolution with the UK authorities.

“Anne would like nothing more than to find a path forward and to provide the family some measure of peace.”