A British couple awaiting extradition to the US, where they face effective life sentences if fraud and money laundering charges against them are proved, were taken to hospital today after a suspected failed suicide pact.
Grandparents Paul and Sandra Dunham, both 58, had spoken of their “complete disbelief” after receiving a call earlier this week from Scotland Yard’s extradition unit telling them they had 72 hours to report to Belgravia police station before being put on a plane and handed over to US marshals at Heathrow.
The alarm was raised when journalists’ inquiries at the couple’s £500,000 home in Collingtree, Northamptonshire went unanswered this morning, a few hours before the deadline passed. Officers forced entry and found the couple before two ambulances were called. Mrs Dunham was carried out of the property on a stretcher while her husband reportedly walked from the home in his pyjamas accompanied by paramedics.
The couple, who have five grandchildren, “vehemently reject” the allegations and said their extradition would have left them sharing separate cells with “murderers and rapists” for up to two years before any trial. They lived in the United States between 1999 and 2009 when Mr Dunham was chief executive and president of Pace, a US firm manufacturing soldering irons for the electronics industry.
He was indicted on 13 counts of fraud and money laundering by a grand jury in Maryland in December 2011 and faces 390 years in prison while his wife is accused of aiding and abetting him. She faces eight counts of fraud and faces 240 years in jail but the Dunhams insist the charges are the result of soured relations with a business rival.
A source close to the couple said that Mr Dunham had spoken “chillingly” of suicide as he and his wife braced themselves for the worst. When asked what would happen if the couple were extradited Mr Dunham told Radio 5 Live in January: “I really don’t know. The psychological evaluation of myself was that they would put me on suicide watch because they felt that the pressures of being separated from my wife, who has been a great tower of strength for me, would be too much for me to bear... There’s a very strong likelihood that I would take my life. Knowing my wife the way I do, she just couldn’t survive something like that. She wouldn’t survive being held in prison. She’s an honest, law abiding person who has never done anything wrong in her life. It’s just unbearable to think about.”
He said that he had written to Home Secretary Theresa May “on three separate occasions and hadn’t had the courtesy of a reply”.
Mr Dunham, who said local MP Andrea Leadsom had been “a real champion” for the couple and had been working hard behind the scenes to try and schedule meetings with Ms May, also said he had written to David Cameron twice. He claimed the Prime Minister’s office had told him they would respond but had yet to do so. “I suspect we’re being fobbed off,” he said.
Their extradition was rejected by both the High Court and the European Court of Human Rights earlier this year. The High Court hearing in February was told the Dunhams’ lives had been “shattered” by the legal proceedings and that the couple were suffering from depression and mental health problems. They had lost their jobs, home and assets in the US and were declared bankrupt in the UK, causing their mental and physical health to suffer "severely", the court also heard.
Close friend Dolores Sanders, 42, who is looking after the couple’s two dogs Oscar and Buster, said: “I don’t know what happened to them. Paul is quite ill and has lots of medication in the house for stress and his heart condition. The police took some of it away. I think it was just the enormous weight of it all that took its toll on them until they collapsed this morning.
“The last I heard from them was late on Wednesday night when Paul forwarded us an email from our MP saying Theresa May wouldn’t help. I think that was their last hope and then they really felt like no one cared. I think they woke up and just couldn't cope. I think they just feel very abandoned.”
Neighbours of the couple yesterday said they had been “very low” since learning they were to be extradited. One woman, who did not want to be named, said: “I would not be surprised at all if they preferred to die than be swallowed up by the American legal system. They have felt completely abandoned by the British Government and have effectively been thrown to the wolves. It would not be a surprise that they tried to end their own lives.”
The Dunhams' legal team applied to the Home Secretary today to delay extradition for 14 days. Michael Evans, of London law firm Kaim Todner, lodged the appeal shortly after they were admitted to hospital.
Melanie Riley, of campaign group Friends Extradited who are helping the couple, said: “I spoke to them [on Wednesday] night and they were traumatised about the extradition. We have written a letter to the Home Secretary asking for the extradition to be delayed for 14 days while an investigation is carried out into what happened [at their home]. We are waiting for a response.”
She said that it was “unlikely” the couple would be allowed to return home after their release from hospital.
At another High Court hearing in April, Lord Justice Beatson and Mr Justice Simon ruled the couple’s mental health problems were not such as to make extradition unjust or oppressive under the Extradition Act. Changes last year to the Act removed the Home Secretary’s powers to intervene in such a case, although it is currently unclear when the extradition will take place.
Mr Dunham has questioned why he and his wife are being sent to stand trial despite suffering mental and physical illnesses while a judge blocked attempts to extradite Haroon Aswat, who is wanted for allegedly conspiring with radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza. Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice, last month temporarily halted moves by the Home Secretary to extradite mentally ill Aswat unless the US government gives specific assurances protecting his health and human rights.Reuse content