'He literally couldn't speak': Relief for computer hacker Gary McKinnon as he wins extradition fight

The shock decision will be hailed as a significant milestone for those who have campaigned against the perceived one-sided nature of Britain’s extradition agreement with the United States

After ten years and seven months Gary McKinnon finally smiled.

The former computer hacker sensationally won his fight to stay in Britain after the Home Secretary today confirmed that the he will not be extradited to the United States. But when the news came through, his mother Janis Sharp explained, he barely knew what to do.

“He literally couldn’t speak,” she said, visibly wiping away tears herself at the culmination of a decade long battle to keep her son in Britain. “Then he hugged and cried. It's so emotional. It's been awful watching Gary go downhill but such a relief to see him smile for the first time in years.”

For the past decade Mr McKinnon, a 46-year-old computer hacker from north London with Aspergers and severe depression, has been living on a knife edge. Prosecutors in the United States have sought him for what they describe as “the biggest military hack of all time”. Supporters flocked to his cause and he quickly became a walking lightning rod for the many criticisms of Britain's extradition agreement with the United States.

In a shock decision which has been hailed as a significant milestone for those who have campaigned against the perceived one-sided nature of Britain’s extradition agreement with its largest ally, Home Secretary Theresa May today confirmed that she would halt Mr McKinnon’s extradition because it would be “incompatible with his human rights”.

His supporters had long argued that he would be at risk of suicide if he was held overseas. After seeking medical and legal advice, Mrs May concluded that Mr McKinnon would not be fit to stand trial in the United States. Instead it will be up to the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide whether a trial should be conducted in the UK.

The Home Secretary also announced plans to introduce new rules which would give UK judges the power to decide whether an extradition suspect should be tried in a British court or abroad. The so-called “forum bar” would require separate legislation and is a direct challenge to Britain's faith in America's judicial decision.

In fact the government's decision to halt Mr McKinnon's extradition will likely cause friction in Washington who wanted to prosecute the hacker for breaking into a string of military and Nasa computers between March 2001 and February 2002.

Douglas McNabb, an expert on American law, told the BBC that US prosecutors would be “livid” with the announcement. “They take a very aggressive approach, extra territoriality - and they have been attempting to secure Mr McKinnon's body for close to ten years next month,” he said. “So they are not going to be happy at all.”

The timing of Mrs May's decision to announce plans for a forum bar sparked criticism from the families of two Muslim men who were extradited just two weeks ago to the United States on similar offences. Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan were both sought by US prosecutors for alleged cyber crimes committed on UK soil - in their case running a pro-jihadi website. Like Gary McKinnon, Talha Ahsan also had an Asperger's diagnosis and was considered a vulnerable adult at risk of suicide but the Home Secretary nonetheless ordered his extradition.

“I'm delighted for Janis and Gary but the government clearly waited for Babar and Talha to be extradited before they announced the forum bar,” Talha’s brother Hamja told The Independent. “It’s so upsetting because a forum bar would almost certainly have meant they would have been prosecuted in the UK, not the USA.”

Fahad Ansari, a human rights lawyer and Babar Ahmad's brother-in-law, added: “If Babar and Talha had hacked into US military computers, or if Gary McKinnon had been a Muslim, do you think they would have been saved from extradition? I really doubt it.”

McKinnon's legal team and extradition campaigners welcomed yesterday's decision as a landmark moment.

“This is a great day for British justice, it came through in the end,” said Karen Todner, his lawyer for much of the past ten years. His barrister, Edward Fitzgerald QC, added that the Home secretary was only able to halt Mr McKinnon's extradition because of the Human Rights Act, a piece of legislation that both Mrs May and Prime Minister David Cameron have routinely maligned.

It remains to be seen whether plans to introduce a forum bar will have any effect on the impending extradition of Richard O'Dwyer, a man from Barnsley who is wanted by US prosecutors for alleged copyright infringements.

Any plans to allow courts to decide whether an extradition suspect should be tried in a UK jurisdiction would need legislative change that might not come in for years.

Mark Spragg, of Keystone Law, a solicitor who acted on behalf of the NatWest Three businessmen who were extradited to the US on fraud charges, said he felt the decision would have little impact on future cases as the bar for health problems had been set so high and Mrs May was still working on the presumption of trial abroad rather than the other way round.

“She is looking at it in the wrong way,” he said. “It will only work if the presumption is that extradition takes place when the requesting state convinces the court it is the only place they can be tried. The onus should be on the requesting state, protecting your human rights should mean that you stay here and have your trial here.”

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
ESPN footage showed a split-screen Murray’s partner Kim Sears and Berdych’s partner Ester Satorova 'sporting' their jewellery
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee