'It is not a crime here, and he has never been to America'


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Like most mothers with children of university age, Julia O'Dwyer paid little attention to what her son Richard was doing on his computer. She knew he had built a website and put a lot of work into it. She also knew that he was proud of his achievement: "It was his baby and people loved it," she said.

So when officers from the City of London police launched simultaneous raids on the family home and Richard's digs in November 2010 in search of "the trappings of wealth", she was understandably astonished.

"Richard just had his student room and they said: 'Well, he's got nothing, has he?' I said: 'No, he hasn't. He's got his laptop, his computer that you have taken, his camera and his phone,'" she says. "They came looking for Mr Big and they found Mr Stupid Student."

Mr O'Dwyer had unwittingly incurred the wrath of the mighty multibillion-dollar United States movie and entertainment industry after launching a website called TVShack which offered links to films and television shows. The site had grown in popularity, eventually attracting advertising.

By the time the authorities became interested in the operation, Mr O'Dwyer was studying interactive media at Sheffield Hallam University and earning enough money from his site to run a second-hand car.

Last Thursday, the Home Secretary Theresa May signed the order authorising the 23-year-old's extradition to the US, where he could face up to 10 years in jail for copyright offences and a potential legal bill of £2m.

Luckily he has got his mother fighting his corner. The paediatric nurse has devoted herself to the task of keeping her son in the UK. In the process she has mastered the intricacies of extradition law, copyright, media campaigning and political lobbying.

Despite the latest setback, she is determined her son will not be sent to New York to face the courts – despite the offer of having his legal fees paid by billionaire producer-cum-entrepreneur Alki David. Sitting in the lounge of her Bolsover cottage on the edge of the Derbyshire Dales, she told i: "We are not even thinking about having a trial in America. Richard is not going to be some poster boy for the pirates in America or something."

Mrs O'Dwyer's efforts have brought her in contact with other high profile "victims" of Britain's controversial deportation laws. She has pooled knowledge with the mother of computer hacker Gary McKinnon, swapped notes with the so-called Nat West Three and is in contact with the family of extradited businessman Chris Tappin. The O'Dwyers' argument, which they intend to put before the High Court, is straightforward. "Richard is not trying to evade justice and he may or may not have committed something that was a crime in America," she says. "The issue is that it's not a crime here and he has never been to America."

There is mounting pressure on the Government to make good on its pre-election promise to reform Britain's extradition laws. Having lost count of the number of court appearances she has made in the past year, Mrs O'Dwyer is a powerful critic of the inadequacies of the process, its "bungling incompetence" and the way the odds are stacked against anyone caught up in it. Meanwhile, Richard is continuing with his studies as best he can.