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.)

ELLIE FOREMAN-PECK FOR NEW STATESMAN
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Craig Oliver, Cameron's attack dog, finally bites

A new book reveals the spiteful after life of Downing Street's unlikely spin doctor.

It must be hard being a spin doctor: always in the shadows but always on-message. The murky control that the role requires might explain why David Cameron’s former director of communications Craig Oliver has rushed out his political memoirs so soon after his boss left Downing Street. Now that he has been freed from the shackles of power, Oliver has chosen to expose the bitterness that lingers among those on the losing side in the EU referendum.

The book, which is aptly titled Unleashing Demons, made headlines with its revelation that Cameron felt “badly let down” by Theresa May during the campaign, and that some in the Remain camp regarded the then home secretary as an “enemy agent”. It makes for gripping reading – yet seems uncharacteristically provocative in style for a man who eschewed the sweary spin doctor stereotype, instead advising Cameron to “be Zen” while Tory civil war raged during the Brexit campaign.

It may be not only politicians who find the book a tough read. Oliver’s visceral account of his side’s defeat on 24 June includes a description of how he staggered in a daze down Whitehall until he retched “harder than I have done in my life. Nothing comes up. I retch again – so hard, it feels as if I’ll turn inside out.”

It’s easy to see why losing hit Oliver – who was knighted in Cameron’s resignation honours list – so hard. Arguably, this was the first time the 47-year-old father-of-three had ever failed at anything. The son of a former police chief constable, he grew up in Scotland, went to a state school and studied English at St Andrews University. He then became a broadcast journalist, holding senior posts at the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

When the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigned as No 10’s communications director in January 2011 because of unceasing references in the press to his alleged involvement in the phone-hacking scandal, Oliver was not the obvious replacement. But he was seen as a scandal-free BBC pen-pusher who exuded calm authority, and that won him the job. The Cameron administration, tainted by its association with the Murdoch media empire, needed somebody uncontroversial who could blend into the background.

It wasn’t just Oliver’s relative blandness that recommended him. At the BBC, he had made his name revamping the corporation’s flagship News at Ten by identifying the news angles that would resonate with Middle England. The Conservatives then put this skill to very good use during their 2015 election campaign. His broadcast expertise also qualified him to sharpen up the then prime minister’s image.

Oliver’s own sense of style, however, was widely ridiculed when he showed up for his first week at Downing Street looking every inch the metropolitan media male with a trendy man bag and expensive Beats by Dre headphones, iPad in hand.

His apparent lack of political affiliation caused a stir at Westminster. Political hacks were perplexed by his anti-spin attitude. His style was the antithesis of the attack-dog mode popularised by Alastair Campbell and Damian McBride in the New Labour years. As Robert Peston told the Daily Mail: “Despite working closely with Oliver for three years, I had no clue about his politics or that he was interested in politics.” Five years on, critics still cast aspersions and question his commitment to the Conservative cause.

Oliver survived despite early wobbles. The most sinister of these was the allegation that in 2012 he tried to prevent the Daily Telegraph publishing a story about expenses claimed by the then culture secretary, Maria Miller, using her links to the Leveson inquiry as leverage – an accusation that Downing Street denied. Nevertheless, he became indispensable to Cameron, one of a handful of trusted advisers always at the prime minister’s side.

Newspapers grumbled about Oliver’s preference for broadcast and social media over print. “He’s made it clear he [Oliver] doesn’t give a s*** about us, so I don’t really give a s*** about him,” a veteran correspondent from a national newspaper told Politico.

Yet that approach was why he was hired. There was the occasional gaffe, including the clumsy shot of a stern-looking Cameron, apparently on the phone to President Obama discussing Putin’s incursion into Ukraine, which was widely mocked on Twitter. But overall, reducing Downing Street’s dependence on print media worked: Scotland voted against independence in 2014 and the Tories won a majority in the 2015 general election.

Then came Brexit, a blow to the whole Cameroon inner circle. In his rush to set the record straight and defend Cameron’s legacy – as well as his own – Oliver has finally broken free of the toned-down, straight-guy persona he perfected in power. His memoir is spiteful and melodramatic, like something straight from the mouth of Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It. Perhaps, with this vengeful encore to his mild political career, the unlikely spin doctor has finally fulfilled his potential. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories