Anne Sacoolas has admitted responsibility for the death of teenager Harry Dunn in a crash near a US military base in Northamptonshire. Sacoolas, 45, pleaded guilty to causing the 19-year-old motorcyclist’s death by careless driving in August 2019.
She had originally been charged with dangerous driving but admitted the lesser offence when she appeared in court by video link. Sacoolas had diplomatic immunity asserted on her behalf by the US government following the crash near RAF Croughton, and was able to leave the UK just under three weeks after the incident. Mr Dunn’s family have now called on her to return to Britain for the sentencing hearing.
Who is Anne Sacoolas?
She is a US citizen and the wife of a US diplomat who was stationed in the UK at a secret base at RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire, in August 2019. Sacoolas was driving on the wrong side of the road when she crashed her Volvo and hitting the 19-year-old motorcyclist. Mr Dunn was taken to the Major Trauma Centre of John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford where he was pronounced dead.
Sacoolas and her husband, Jonathan, boarded a private jet soon after the death of Mr Dunn and flew to the US where they have remained.
It had been confirmed she had also been an intelligence officer and the family had only been in the UK a few weeks before the incident. Anne and Jonathan Sacoolas have been married since 2003 and have three children together.
Why did the case take so long to come to court?
After Sacoolas was granted diplomatic immunity - which is a status meaning the person can’t be prosecuted for any crime or civil case in another country, Mr Dunn’s family travelled to the US to lobby President Trump.
In December 2019, the Crown Prosecution Service authorised Northamptonshire Police to charge her with causing Mr Dunn’s death by dangerous driving.
However, a month later an extradition request was denied by the US government. The case caused a diplomatic row between the UK and the US. It was ultimately agreed she would appear for the court hearing via videolink.
Why did she not attend court in person?
Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb urged Sacoolas to come to the UK to be sentenced in person, but admitted she had no power to force her. Adjourning sentence until the end of November, she said the offence of causing death by careless driving carried a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment with a range of options from a medium-level community order to three years in custody.
Addressing the unusual way the hearing had been conducted with the defendant appearing from the United States, the judge said: “The fact that the defendant could not be compelled to attend court in person means there was no other way to obtain her plea to the charges. It was in the interests of justice in the particular circumstances of this case to grant a live link for this hearing.
“That is no reason in itself to grant a live link for sentence. Although I have not yet decided what sentence to impose, I very much have in mind the submissions as to the sentencings.
“Ms Sacoolas is a convicted offender and a consideration of the interests of justice now must include the ability to enforce any sentence or any ancillary order I impose. It is agreed any sentence I impose is likely to be unenforceable while the defendant remains outside the UK.
“I have to consider the reason why the defendant does not attend court in person. Alongside an early guilty plea one of the most powerful mitigating factors in cases of death by driving is the degree of remorse felt by the defendant.
“Attention has been rightly drawn to the remorse by Ms Sacoolas in co-operating with these proceedings at all. Despite her conviction today, there is no order I can make to compel her at the Central Criminal Court for sentence.
“I direct Ms Sacoolas attend court to be sentenced. If the sentence… is one that does not involve immediate custody there is to be no barrier to her returning home after the hearing.”
The judge reminded the court that the case concerned the “sudden and unexpected” death of a young man three years ago, adding: “Attendance would provide weighty evidence indeed of genuine remorse.”
What has Harry Dunn’s family said?
Around 20 members of Mr Dunn’s family, who have long campaigned for Sacoolas to face justice, were sitting in court. Speaking outside court, Mr Dunn’s mother Charlotte Charles said that “of course” she wants Sacoolas to return to the UK to be sentenced.
Mrs Charles told the PA news agency: “I do very much hope that she listens to the judge’s words and makes the effort to come back because that will truly show us all how remorseful she is. It’s all well and good saying you’re sorry but demonstrating you are is another matter.”
Harry’s father Tim Dunn added: “Anne will do what Anne will do – it’s up to her what she does. But I would urge her on behalf of my entire family to do the right thing and come back for the sentencing hearing.”
Speaking on BBC Breakfast Ms Charles said it had been “a long fight”, and describing the moment the family heard the guilty plea she said: “That’s what we’ve been fighting for for three years, very, very long painful years and finally, finally we got it.” Mr Dunn added: “To hear her say it and see her say it, it was like the three years the pressure that had built slowly ebbed away.”
Ms Charles went on to say: “When the person that should have been held accountable then leaves the country the first thing we done was get on a plane to plead with her to come back. So when the judge shocked us all really by saying that she wants her to come back and to show the remorse that maybe she should have done a few years ago, was more than a heartstopping moment.”
When will she be sentenced?
Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb also imposed an interim driving ban and ordered a pre-sentence report to be prepared.Sacoolas will be sentenced at the Old Bailey in the week of 28 November.