Civil claim against Harry Dunn suspect to remain in US

Josh Payne, PA

An American judge has ruled that a civil claim for damages against Harry Dunn’s alleged killer will remain in the US due to her “refusal” to return to the UK.

Anne Sacoolas had applied to dismiss the case on the grounds it should be heard in the UK, despite her legal team admitting she would not agree to face trial due to a “concern” she would not “receive fair treatment”.

A hearing at a court in the Eastern District of Virginia had previously been told her work in intelligence was “especially a factor” in her departure and her Sacoolas family “fled” the UK for “issues of security”.

But handing down his judgment on Tuesday, the judge said: “While it is commendable that Defendant Anne Sacoolas admits that she was negligent and that her negligence caused Harry Dunn’s death, this does not equate acceptance of responsibility.

“Full acceptance of responsibility entails facing those harmed by her negligence and taking responsibility for her acts where they occurred, in the United Kingdom.”

She travelled back to the US after the State Department asserted diplomatic immunity on her behalf following a crash which killed Mr Dunn outside RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire in August 2019.

Harry Dunn death
Harry Dunn’s family (Aaron Chown/PA)

The 43-year-old was then charged with causing the teenager’s death by dangerous driving but an extradition request was rejected by the US Government in January last year.

Due to her “refusal” to return to the UK, the Dunn family brought a civil claim for damages against her as “a last resort” in the hope of some sort of justice for their son.

In his judgment, Judge Thomas Ellis dismissed Sacoolas’s submissions that the UK was a “more convenient” forum, keeping the case in Virginia – describing the motion as “not warranted”.

Judge Ellis also took into account the “firm support” of UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who submitted a letter to the court which read: “I strongly support (the Dunn family’s) right to bring the case.

Harry Dunn
Dominic Raab (Victoria Jones/PA)

“It is of course for the US courts to decide the issue of venue but for our part the British Government takes the view that British citizens can bring their case in whichever court they think appropriate… I hope therefore (the Dunn family’s) action in the United States is able to proceed.”

Mr Dunn’s mother Charlotte Charles told the PA news agency: “We are pleased and relieved at the court’s decision.

“We only took this step as a last resort following the denial of justice in the extradition case on strong legal advice from our legal team.”

On February 4, the family listened to Sacoolas’s legal team submit the application to dismiss, in which the Alexandria district court was told Sacoolas and her husband Jonathan Sacoolas worked for the US State Department at the time of the crash.

Charlotte Charles
Charlotte Charles (Jacob King/PA)

Her barrister, John McGavin, told the court he could not “completely candidly” explain why the Sacoolas family left the UK, adding: “I know the answer, but I cannot disclose it.”

The Dunn family’s spokesman Radd Seiger told PA: “Having studied this judgment we are delighted to see that common sense has prevailed.

“Harry’s parents only brought these legal proceedings as a last resort.

“The Sacoolases were on the one hand arguing that the civil claim for wrongful death should be tried in the UK as that was the ‘more convenient’ forum, whilst at the same time arguing that she would not return to the UK to face a criminal prosecution because she fears she would not get a fair trial.

“Harry’s parents never wanted to enter into dispute with anybody and they fundamentally believe that the way to resolve differences is with dialogue.”

Other motions Sacoolas’s legal team submitted to dismiss the case will be heard on March 3 in Virginia.

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