The New Statesman’s rolling politics blog


Will Obama and Cameron save Gary McKinnon?

Mother of hacker facing extradition threat is hopeful -- exclusive interview and photo.

Amid the discussions of BP, Afghanistan and al-Megrahi, Barack Obama and David Cameron found time to talk about Gary McKinnon, an Asperger's sufferer living in north London, due to be extradited to the United States after hacking into multiple government computer systems Stateside.

McKinnon's case has attracted huge attention -- not least from Cameron and his co-pilot Nick Clegg, who while in opposition supported his mother's campaign for Gary to be tried in the UK rather than face a heavy sentence in the US.

When I met Janis Sharp, McKinnon's mother, on 26 May, she was distraught after hearing an interview with Clegg who appeared to backtrack on the issue. This morning, she sounded a little different.

"I couldn't believe it," she said, describing the moment she turned on the news last night to see Cameron and Obama answering a question about McKinnon at their joint press conference. She had noticed Obama's smile when the issue was raised, and the hopeful reference to an "appropriate solution" being found.

But she was most amazed by the fact that Gary's case had been discussed at all. "These talks are so sensitive . . . that David Cameron brought it up is absolutely brilliant."

Still, she remains cautious. No formal word is yet to emerge from the Home Office, where Theresa May is still considering the complexity of the extradition. Sharp says she has been given conflicting hints as to when she will hear anything -- possibly before parliament breaks for the summer recess, or perhaps not until September.

Either way, she is happy that the case is back in the news, and therefore applying pressure to the government to keep Gary in Britain.

What about Gary himself? "He caught some of it," Sharp says, mentioning how she rang him immediately to tell him to switch on the television to see two of the most powerful leaders in the world discussing his plight.

While nothing is certain, that sight alone is cause for muted celebration, and a direct result, says Sharp, of "people power" -- the thousands of people and organisations who have written to the Home Office on Gary's behalf. That aside, Cameron is bound by his own words, spoken when the previous government announced McKinnon's extradition in July 2009:

Gary McKinnon is a vulnerable young man and I see no compassion in sending him thousands of miles away from his home and loved ones to face trial.


Next Article