Harry Dunn: what happened to Anne Sacoolas at court hearing - and what is a suspended jail sentence?

Anne Sacoolas was being sentenced after admitting causing the death of Harry Dunn by careless driving

Anne Sacoolas has avoided jail for causing the death of 19-year-old motorcyclist Harry Dunn in a crash. Sacoolas attended the sentencing via video link after being advised by the US government no to attend in person. Harry’s mum Charlotte Charles broke down as the sentenced was handed down after a three-year fight for justice.

Sacoolas was driving on the wrong side of the road when she crashed into Harry outside US military base RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire on 27 August 2019. Appearing at the Old Bailey via video link she was told by Mrs Justice Cheema-Gubb that she would impose an eight month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months. A suspended sentence means the offender does not have to go to prison provided they commit no further offences and comply with any requirements imposed. They are used only when the custodial sentence is no longer than two years.

She told Sacoolas that while she was in the US, the sentence could not be enforced. The mother-of-three was also disqualified from driving for 12 months.

She told Sacoolas during the hearing: “You drove along the wrong side of the road for much more than a moment and you did not realise what you were doing when you came to a bend in the road. I bear in mind that this was a short period of driving and you were not familiar with English roads.

“The death of Harry Dunn is, of course, the highest degree of harm. Anyone who has caused death by driving would be expected to feel remorseful … and I accept that you feel genuine remorse.”

What did Harry Dunn’s mum say during the hearing?

Harry Dunn’s mother broke down as she told a court her son’s death “haunts me every minute of every day”. Charlotte Charles gave a victim impact statement during the sentencing hearing of Anne Sacoolas at the Old Bailey on Thursday. Speaking about how her son’s death had affected her, Mrs Charles told the court: “My world turned upside down on 27 August, 2019.

“My beautiful son Harry, twin brother of Niall, is gone and is never coming back. For 19 years, I had the enormous privilege and joy of nurturing and raising Harry who was the light of my life before he was so senselessly and cruelly taken from us.

“Harry just disappeared out of my life that night, shattering my existence forever. I didn’t make it to the hospital in time before he passed and the thought of that haunts me to my core.

Harry Dunn died at the age of 19.
Harry Dunn died at the age of 19.
Harry Dunn died at the age of 19.

“I beat myself up over and over again – if I had left work on time that night, I would have been able to delay him leaving the house so that he wouldn’t have been travelling along the same road as Anne Sacoolas.

“Although I have my other beautiful son Niall with me and the rest of my family, there is an intense feeling of emptiness in the pit of my stomach without my cheerful Harry around.

“His passing haunts me every minute of every day and I’m not sure how I’m ever going to get over it.” Addressing how she tried to cope with her son’s death, Mrs Charles said: “I have started counselling but the psychological damage that’s been caused is almost impossible to describe.

“Tears flow constantly and my mood ranges from anger to solemn all the time. I have been shaken to the point of breaking and the only thing that keeps me going every day is looking after Niall and Harry’s other siblings and ensuring that we get justice for Harry.

“I made a promise to Harry in the hospital that we would get him justice and a mother never breaks a promise to her son. Although I have somehow managed to find the strength to front Harry’s campaign, off camera people don’t see the real me.

“Harry’s death has left me feeling vulnerable and scared to face my life without him.” Mrs Charles continued: “There isn’t a single part of me that has not been affected by the loss of Harry. I’m panicky, angry, shaky, tearful.

“Sleep is difficult. Waking up is worse. The thought of Harry suffering before he died and his passing itself is always there and always will be. I just want to wrap my arms around him, cuddle him, love him, talk to him and I can’t any more.” Paying tribute to her son, Mrs Charles said: “The bond between a mother and her children is a special one.

“My bond has been torn apart and although he is not here with me physically I hope one day to be able to rebuild the bond between he and I. He was one in a million and his smile and laughter were infectious.

“As a family we are determined that his death will not have been in vain and we are involved in a number of projects to try to find some silver lining in this tragedy and to help others. That will be Harry’s legacy. He was always looking after others and we will carry on his work in his absence.

“I am a broken woman and only hope that one day I will be able to start looking forward to things again with Harry on my shoulder whispering in my ear that he loves me and me doing the same for him.”

What else was said?

Sacoolas and her husband, Jonathan, left the UK soon after the death of Mr Dunn and flew to the US where they have remained. On 28 October 2019. Sacoolas was interviewed by police after her return to the US. She said that she and her family had arrived in the UK on July 24 for her husband’s job and she had driven that route less than five times.

Before the collision, she had turned left off the base and pulled onto the right-hand side of the road, saying it was the “American side”. She said: “I started driving and a short distance.. ahead I remember seeing Harry, being confused, and the accident happening all, you know, at the same time really.” Having got her children out of the car, she went to help the stricken motorcyclist.

She said: “He made a comment that he was driving on his side of the road. It was when I got my kids to the side of the road that I realised what happened. It wasn’t until that point that I realised that I had driven on the American side of the road versus UK side.”

The court heard Sacoolas drove 350 metres for some 26 seconds on the wrong side of the road after turning from the air base. Prosecutor Duncan Atkinson KC said there was an “explosion and fire” following the collision. Continuing to open the case, he said: “It is not suggested the Volvo was exceeding the speed limit. Neither driver seems to have seen or reacted to the other.

He said Sacoolas failed to recognise road markings which should have alerted her to this error. He told the court: “Faced with an oncoming motorcycle, there was no opportunity to avoid a head-on collision.”

Sacoolas wiped away tears as she attend her sentencing on Thursday, remotely, from her lawyer’s office in Washington DC once again. In a statement read by her lawyer Ben Cooper KC, Sacoolas said she was “deeply sorry for the pain I have caused”. He said she had received death threats via email and telephone, and her family had been forced to relocate following Harry’s death.

Reading a statement on behalf of the defendant, he said her actions caused her “regret every single day”, adding: “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about Harry.”

Mr Cooper said Sacoolas “did not ask” for the diplomatic immunity asserted on her behalf by the US government, nor did she have an opportunity to have a say in the refusal of an extradition request submitted by the Home Office. He said the defendant left the country on a commercial flight as her family were redeployed on the decision of her government.