Tory plea over hacker charges

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The Independent Tech

Conservatives today urged Home Secretary Alan Johnson to intervene in the case of Asperger's Syndrome sufferer Gary McKinnon to prevent his extradition to the US on charges of hacking into American military computers.

MPs will discuss the McKinnon case in the House of Commons today in a debate called by the Tories.

Speaking ahead of the debate, shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said that MPs should "send a message" to the Government that extradition was not appropriate in Mr McKinnon's case.

Mr Grayling said that new extradition arrangements brought in with the US were intended to deal with serious terrorism charges and not with relatively minor cases of this kind.

Mr McKinnon, 43, from Wood Green, north London, yesterday asked the High Court to overturn the refusal of Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer to put him on trial in the UK on charges of computer misuse. If there was no UK prosecution, Mr McKinnon would inevitably be extradited to stand trial in the US, the judges heard.

The court reserved judgment and said it hoped to give a decision in writing by the end of July.

Mr McKinnon has admitted computer hacking and leaving a message in US military systems saying "I will continue to disrupt", but his lawyers said his intention was only to cause "temporary impairment" not lasting damage to the system.

They argue that extradition would lead to "disastrous consequences", including possible psychosis and suicide, because of his medical condition which is on the autistic spectrum.

Mr Grayling told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "People on the autistic spectrum find it very difficult to deal with a big change in surroundings. To extradite somebody in that position to the US to a strange environment is undoubtedly going to cause health issues for Gary McKinnon.

"In the past, where there have been similar cases, we have seen trials take place in the UK.

"There is no doubt that an offence has been committed - Gary McKinnon has admitted that. But why on earth is this trial not taking place in the UK?

"I hope the House of Commons will send a message to the Government that really this is not what the extradition system is supposed to do. These new rules were set up for very serious offences, for terror offences. I don't believe Parliament ever intended them to be used to extradite somebody with autism issues to face a charge like this.

"There are some suggestions that the Home Secretary has more powers to intervene than have so far been used."

James Welch, legal director at civil liberties group Liberty, said: "We should not be sending people to be tried in foreign courts and then, if convicted, imprisoned away from family and friends here when it is perfectly feasible to try them in the courts in this country."