Mother of next Briton facing extradition fears for his future

Julia O'Dwyer says May's plan to give UK citizens new protections will come too late for her son
  • @jerometaylor

The mother of a young man facing extradition to the US fears plans to give judges new powers to decide whether a case should be tried at home or abroad will be too late to save her son.

Richard O'Dwyer, a 24-year-old student from Barnsley, is facing five years in an American prison for hosting a TV link site from his university bedsit. He is one of the few remaining British citizens still fighting extradition to the US over alleged cyber-crimes that have taken place on British soil.

On Tuesday, Home Secretary Theresa May halted the extradition of computer hacker Gary McKinnon and announced plans to bring in a "forum bar" which would allow judges to decide if such cases should be tried in Britain. But Mr O'Dwyer's mother, Julia, said she had little faith that the Government would bring in the legislation before her son's case comes to appeal.

"It would be good if they could do that but I don't think they will," she said. "We certainly haven't been given any hope that they might. They can bring in laws quickly when they want to."

The O'Dwyer family watched Tuesday's announcement to halt Gary McKinnon's extradition with a mixture of hope and trepidation. Unlike Mr McKinnon, who was saved from extradition because he was at risk of suicide, Mr O'Dwyer has no underlying health concerns. But extradition campaigners have flocked to his cause as another example of the perceived outsourcing of British justice to America. Almost 250,000 people have signed a petition against his extradition set up by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

"Gary's a different case," said Mrs O'Dwyer. "But it's the same old thing – people being extradited when they've never even left this country and that's not happening to American citizens."

Plans to bring in a forum bar would likely need new legislation in Parliament which means it could be at least two years before any changes are made. Mr O'Dwyer is currently appealing Mrs May's recent approval of his extradition in a case which is due to be heard in the court within the next six months.

Extradition campaigners have long argued for a forum bar. But some legal analysts have questioned whether it would have made any difference in many of the recent extradition cases that have come before the court.

During the recent review of Britain's extradition agreements by Sir Scott Baker, judges at Westminster magistrates – which hears all extradition requests – were asked if they could think of an example where a forum bar might have resulted in a suspect being tried in the UK. They said they couldn't find a single case.

Others have remarked how the forum bar is far from the extradition campaigners' ultimate goal of a renegotiation of Britain's extradition treaty with the US.

Profile: Richard O'Dwyer

The 24-year-old multimedia undergraduate student at Sheffield Hallam University registered the internet domain in 2007, when Mr O'Dwyer was aged just 19. The website he built provided links to US films and TV shows available to watch on other websites, together with a forum for users to discuss what they were watching. It is claimed that he earned £140,000 through advertisements on his site. It was shut down on grounds of copyright infringement in June 2010, for helping people to access pirated material elsewhere despite not hosting any itself. Four months later Mr O'Dwyer was visited by police officers who seized his computer equipment and took him away for questioning, before the US launched extradition proceedings.

Rob Hastings