Glasgow & West Scotland

Phillip Harkins loses fight against US extradition

Phillip Harkins Image copyright Handout
Image caption Phillip Harkins has always denied being involved in the robbery in 1999

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled a Scottish man should be tried for murder in the US following a record-breaking extradition battle.

It said Phillip Harkins' human rights would not be breached if he was jailed for life without parole in Florida.

The 38-year-old has been in jail in the UK since 2003, after being accused over a 1999 drugs-related attempted robbery.

He has always denied being involved in the killing and returned to Scotland in 2002 after being released on bail.

After his return to the UK, he was convicted and jailed for dangerous driving after killing a 62-year-old woman in a car crash in Greenock.

Following that sentence, the US authorities sought his extradition for the 1999 murder of 22-year-old Joshua Hayes - triggering the unprecedented legal battle that has been before the European Court twice.

Image caption The ruling was made by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg

Analysis by Dominic Casciani, BBC Home Affairs correspondent

This has been an unprecedented 14-year extradition battle which has gone on until today. It has been extraordinary.

Phillip Harkins has been all the way through the British courts - not once, but twice - and up to the European Court.

In essence, he was saying there were two issues. The first was the possibility of the death penalty. The Americans said they wouldn't seek the death penalty in this case if he is convicted. That is a standard procedure which they always offer in British extradition cases.

But then Mr Harkins said, well if I'm going to be jailed for life without parole, it is a breach of of my human rights - it's cruel and it's degrading.

This has been a long-running row between the European Court and the British authorities about the nature of life sentences.

A couple of years ago, even though he had lost his case in Strasbourg, he got a second chance because there was a little bit of doubt in the European Court's mind. That's why he went back today. This morning, he lost.

US prosecutors assured the UK that it would not seek the death penalty for Mr Harkins were he to be convicted of the murder.

But his lawyers have argued for years that the prospect of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole once reformed constituted inhuman or degrading treatment contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mr Harkins lost all stages of his legal battle in the British courts, and the Strasbourg judges previously ruled against him until a legal twist meant he could try to make a second appeal in 2015.

In a short statement on Monday morning, the Grand Chamber of the court said that the case would not be re-opened, meaning it would no longer stand in the way of the extradition.

'Fighting a battle'

Under the usual procedures, the UK is now expected to inform the US that the extradition can go ahead, so that its authorities can make arrangements to transfer Mr Harkins to American custody.

Mr Harkins moved to the US with his family when he was 14.

Shortly before his 21st birthday he was accused of shooting dead Joshua Hayes in Jackonsville, Florida, during an attempted robbery.

Mr Harkins returned to Scotland after being released on bail in 2002 and was involved in a car crash in his native Greenock, which claimed the life of 62-year-old Jean O'Neill.

He was jailed for five years at the High Court in Edinburgh in 2003 after he admitted causing death by dangerous driving.

While in custody, Harkins was transferred to Wandsworth Prison in London, while proceedings got under way to extradite him to the US.

'Pure hell'

The final ruling by the European Court has been welcomed by Joshua Hayes' mother Patricia Gallagher.

Speaking from her home in Florida, she told the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme: "It's been a long time and he has had appeal after appeal, but the day that he leaves Scotland is the day that we'll believe it's over.

"This has been pure hell - honestly, it's been a fighting battle. We just want to get him back for justice. He should never have been over there - he should have been here.

"I really don't understand how he was ever allowed that many appeals. That's way too many. He says that he's a victim, but he is not."

More on this story