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UK Politics

Hacker's mum hits out at Home Secretary

The mother of computer hacker Gary McKinnon today criticised the Home Secretary for linking her son to the September 11 terror attacks and the deaths of nearly 3,000 US citizens.

Janis Sharp said Alan Johnson was "doing America's job" when he should be "standing up for British citizens".

She said her 43-year-old son, who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome (AS) and is wanted for trial on charges of hacking into US military networks, could "easily" be tried in the UK if the Government wanted to intervene to stop his extradition.

Writing in The Sunday Times today, Mr Johnson said it would be illegal for him to intervene, saying Mr McKinnon was accused of hacking into computers "shortly after the attacks of 9/11 which killed nearly 3,000 US citizens".

Ms Sharp told Sky News: "I was very disappointed because not only is he (Mr Johnson) trying not to stand up for Gary's rights, he actually is trying to incriminate him by talking about 9/11 and all the people that died and then mentioning Gary's name.

"I don't expect him to actually be doing America's job, I expect him to be standing up for British citizens."

She admitted her son's actions had been "very stupid" and "ludicrous", but repeated her call for him to be tried in the UK.

"Gary's never said he should get off or he shouldn't face up to what he's done," she said.

"He should be tried here. If they (the Government) want to, they could quite easily stop this extradition."

Ms Sharp also said she still held out hope that United States' President Barack Obama may intervene.

"I think if he knew about this he would realise, 'Do we want the first person ever extradited for computer crime to be a guy with Asperger's, who was looking for UFOs, who was so naive he admitted to computer misuse without a lawyer?'

"I believe Obama would say, 'No. Not in my time. Not in my name. This is a hold-over from the Bush era."

She added that her son was "very bad" at the moment and "extremely distressed" over his situation.

Campaigners seeking to block his extradition say his only crime is being a "UFO eccentric" who searched for evidence of extra-terrestrials.

In a statement, Mr Johnson said Friday's High Court ruling, in which Mr McKinnon failed in his bid to avoid removal to America, made clear "it would be illegal for me to stop the extradition".

He said: "Mr McKinnon is accused of serious crimes and the US has a lawful right to seek his extradition, as we do when we wish to prosecute people who break our laws.

"He is accused of hacking into 97 US Army, Navy, NASA and Defence Department computers concerned with national defence and security at a critical time immediately following the 9/11 attacks and leaving the military network vulnerable to intruders."

The statement made no reference to the number of people killed in the terror attacks.

Mr Johnson added that his predecessor Jacqui Smith had "already sought and received clear assurances from the US that Mr McKinnon's health and welfare needs would be met, should he be extradited".

Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, who is standing in for Gordon Brown during the Prime Minister's absence on holiday, said it would be wrong for ministers to "second guess" the criminal justice system and order judges to halt Mr McKinnon's extradition.

Ms Harman told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show: "If the Americans - as they have - have made out in court a case that this is an allegation of an offence of sufficient seriousness that they want him to stand trial in America, I don't think it should be for the British Government or any British politician to say we are going to second-guess the criminal justice system."

She went on: "If he is found guilty, then obviously straight away we will seek for him to serve any prison sentence - if he is sentenced to prison - back in this country.

"To that extent the Home Secretary, in terms of his welfare, is involved. But we don't think it is right for the Home Secretary to say, 'We think this person should be extradited but this other person shouldn't be put on trial'."

Ms Harman rejected claims that Britain's extradition treaty with the US was "imbalanced", pointing out that American authorities have so far never refused to extradite suspects wanted to stand trial in the UK courts.

Last week, Conservative leader David Cameron joined the growing call for a review of the extradition laws in light of Mr McKinnon's case.