UK Politics

Wikileaks files: US rebuffed Brown over McKinnon offer

Gary McKinnon
Gary McKinnon has been fighting extradition to the US for several years

Gordon Brown was rebuffed after suggesting Gary McKinnon could plead guilty to computer hacking and make a statement of contrition in return for serving his sentence in the UK.

The ex-PM's offer was detailed in one of the Wikileaks US diplomatic cables, published in The Guardian.

Mr McKinnon faces extradition to the US for computer hacking in 2001 and 2002.

His mother, Janis Sharp, told MPs she had been "very surprised" and pleased to hear of Mr Brown's intervention.

A High Court decision on whether Mr McKinnon's extradition could go ahead was adjourned in May and ministers have announced a review of existing rules.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg have both expressed concerns about the case and the Home Affairs Committee is holding an inquiry into the US/UK extradition rules.

The Guardian says Mr Brown made his unsuccessful direct intervention in August 2009, according to a secret cable from the US ambassador in the UK, Louis Susman, to the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Mr Susman wrote: "PM Brown, in a one-on-one meeting with the ambassador, proposed a deal: that McKinnon plead guilty, make a statement of contrition, but serve any sentence of incarceration in the UK. Brown cited deep public concern that McKinnon, with his medical condition, would commit suicide or suffer injury if imprisoned in a US facility."

Ms Sharp, giving evidence to the home affairs committee which is looking into the UK's extradition laws, said: "I was very pleased and I wish we had known about that because he [Mr Brown] would have been given credit for it."

She added she was surprised at the US reaction "because had the boot been on the other foot and they had said 'could you not extradite someone' we would say 'of course not' and that's because this is what friends do".

Mr McKinnon - who has Asperger's syndrome - faces up to 60 years in jail if he is convicted in the US.

Campaigners say existing extradition rules are biased against the UK and are being used for offences they were not intended to cover.

The review of the laws, being carried out by Sir Scott Baker, is examining whether the 2003 extradition treaty is "unbalanced" and what discretion the home secretary should have to intervene in individual cases.

Glasgow-born Mr McKinnon is accused of hacking into US military computer systems in 2001 and 2002, altering and deleting files in the process.

He does not deny hacking into systems but insists he was seeking evidence of UFOs.

Home Secretary Theresa May agreed to an adjournment of a High Court decision on whether his extradition could go ahead.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the home affairs committee, said the fact ministers had made no decision about his case since then "highlighted the importance" of Parliament looking at the issue of the UK's arrangements with the US and its extradition rules in general.

Post 9/11 Treaty

Other witnesses giving evidence on Tuesday included former Home Secretary David Blunkett, who signed the treaty, and Shami Chakrabarti, director of the civil liberties organisation Liberty.

The last Labour government insisted there was no evidence to suggest an "imbalance" in the extradition rules or the tests applied and Mr Blunkett has said that sensible discussions with the UK's partners could resolve "any irritants quite speedily".

But critics of the US/UK treaty, agreed between Washington and London in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks of 2001, say it is easier to extradite people from the UK than the US.

They say the arrangement is not reciprocal because the US does not need to present evidence to a British court to request extradition, while the UK still needs to present evidence to an American court.

While originally designed to make it easier to bring terrorist suspects to justice, campaigners say the treaty is being used to seek extradition for fraud and drug offences.

Civil liberties groups say no British citizen should be sent for trial in a foreign country without due process and if they could be tried at home.

Ministers have said the current extradition arrangements are causing controversy and that the review will ensure they work "efficiently and in the interests of justice".

Current extradition arrangements will continue until the review - which is also looking at the application of the European arrest warrant - is completed.

The European arrest warrant means EU members can ask for fast-track extradition of an individual without providing prima-facie evidence to the courts, usually as long as the offence is a crime in both countries and carries a prison sentence of more than one year.

But Fair Trials International has said more than 1,000 people have been detained and extradited under what it says is a "no-questions-asked" system.

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