Why did it take ten years to block the extradition of Gary McKinnon?

What you believe about the McKinnon extradition case is probably false

The Home Secretary has decided that the extradition of Gary McKinnon will not go ahead. 

Relying on the same human rights law which she has strongly criticised in the past in respect of other extradition cases, the Home Secretary has ruled that the suicide risk is such that it would be contrary to McKinnon's human rights for the extradition to proceed. 

If that is what the evidence is before the Home Secretary in respect of a suicide risk, then it was plainly the right decision for her to make, though it opens obvious questions as to whether it can be now a precedent for other extradition cases.

However, it appears that, but for this determination, the extradition would have proceeded - put another way, the legal case for McKinnon's extradition was otherwise sound.


But how can we best understand how the McKinnon case has taken so long to get to this stage? 

The alleged offences took place in 2001 and 2002, and based on mainstream media accounts, it just seemed such a clear injustice being inflicted on a sympathetic defendant.  

The answer, in part, is that there has long been a mismatch between the mainstream media accounts of the McKinnon case and the underlying legal facts. 

On one hand, there was an admirable, tireless, and spiritied campaign on McKinnon's behalf.  Unfortunately, one consequence of this campaign is that there were many contentions about the case which "everyone knew" even if few ever seemed to check if they were true.

On the other hand, there have been a series of legal judgments which provided a very different perspective on the case. In 2010, in a sequence of blogposts at Jack of Kent, I set out the correct legal position.  This is not to say I believed McKinnon should have been extradited; it was just to balance the media narrative on the case with a more source-based approach.  This was important as, without understanding there was a mismatch between the mainstream media version of the case with the legal realities, one could not understand why the extradition had gone on so long.


My survey at Jack of Kent set out a number of points which did not feature in mainstream media accounts of the case.

First, the contention that all McKinnon was doing was looking for evidence extraterrestrial life had no basis in the legal case.  UFOs played no part in the litigation whatsoever.  The UFO explanation was never provided by McKinnon or his legal team in the court cases.  In fact, McKinnon's original case was that his motives were political and he contended that political opinions should be taken so seriously that he should not be allowed to be extradited on those grounds alone.

Then there was the assertion that his offences were trivial and more the fault of lax US security.  Again, this is not supported by the legal documents.  Instead, the alleged offences are serious and were sustained over a lengthy period.  The allegations are in respect of a hacking exercise which took place over fourteen months and involving 96 computers in five US government departments, and which came to an end (it seems) only with his detection and arrest.  The CPS also provided detailed reasons as to why they would not prosecute McKinnon in the UK - and this was not a supririse, as both the unauthorised access and the alleged damage occured entirely in the US.

Moreover, the allegations against McKinnon also went beyond unauthorised access to substantial file deletion and copying.  The US alleged that there was significant operational damage and that they could evidence the damage.

It was also usually overlooked that the unauthorised access (ie the offence) had been actually admitted by McKinnon's legal team (so it was likely to be no issue to be tried).  His legal team even indicated that he may also admit the damage as well as the unauthorised access.

Accordingly, the US could thereby show a prima facie case.  Therefore the disparities in respect of the UK/US extradition arrangements were not actually relevant in this case -  the notorious "one-sided" extradition treaty was a red herring here, even if it was relevant in other cases.

And given the human dimension in all this, and perhaps most importantly of all, the US even provided detailed assurances as to how McKinnon's condition of Asperger's Syndrome would have been accommodated should he be extradited. 

It should also be noted that McKinnon  rejected a highly advantageous plea bargain in 2003 (and so would have been free of all this by around 2006, rather than still waiting as late as 2012). 

Finally, the US also stated that there was no principled opposition to McKinnon applying to serve his sentence in the UK.


The McKinnon legal case was never how the mainstram media presented the case; and so it was always difficult for anyone following to comprehend why the extradition went on for so long.

But, unless the DPP decides to now prosecute McKinnon in England, none of the above legal analysis matters any more. 

It would appear the "Free Gary" campaign has succeeded in keeping the case going in England until they could get the official decision they sought. This is an incredible achievement.  The fact that the legal realities of the case were often ignored along the way by the mainstream media is now perhaps only of academic importance.



(Supporting analysis and links to all the above is at my blog at Jack of Kent.)

Gary McKinnon. Photograph: Getty Images

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Jeremy Corbyn challenged by Labour MPs to sack Ken Livingstone from defence review

Former mayor of London criticised at PLP meeting over comments on 7 July bombings. 

After Jeremy Corbyn's decision to give Labour MPs a free vote over air strikes in Syria, tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting was less fractious than it could have been. But one grandee was still moved to declare that the "ferocity" of the attacks on the leader made it the most "uplifting" he had attended.

Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary, told the meeting: "We cannot unite the party if the leader's office is determined to divide us." Several MPs said afterwards that many of those who shared Corbyn's opposition to air strikes believed he had mishandled the process by appealing to MPs over the heads of the shadow cabinet and then to members. David Winnick declared that those who favoured military action faced a "shakedown" and deselection by Momentum activists. "It is completely unacceptable. They are a party within a party," he said of the Corbyn-aligned group. The "huge applause" for Hilary Benn, who favours intervention, far outweighed that for the leader, I'm told. 

There was also loud agreement when Jack Dromey condemned Ken Livingstone for blaming Tony Blair's invasion of Iraq for the 7 July 2005 bombings. Along with Angela Smith MP, Dromey demanded that Livingstone be sacked as the co-chair of Labour's defence review. Significantly, Benn said aftewards that he agreed with every word Dromey had said. Corbyn's office has previously said that it is up to the NEC, not the leader, whether the former London mayor holds the position. In reference to 7 July, an aide repeated Corbyn's statement that he preferred to "remember the brilliant words Ken used after 7/7". 

As on previous occasions, MPs complained that the leader failed to answer the questions that were put to him. A shadow minister told me that he "dodged" one on whether he believed the UK should end air strikes against Isis in Iraq. In reference to Syria, a Corbyn aide said afterwards that "There was significant support for the leader. There was a wide debate, with people speaking on both sides of the arguments." After David Cameron's decision to call a vote on air strikes for Wednesday, leaving only a day for debate, the number of Labour MPs backing intervention is likely to fall. One shadow minister told me that as few as 40-50 may back the government, though most expect the total to be closer to the original figure of 99. 

At the end of another remarkable day in Labour's history, a Corbyn aide concluded: "It was always going to be a bumpy ride when you have a leader who was elected by a large number outside parliament but whose support in the PLP is quite limited. There are a small number who find it hard to come to terms with that result."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.