Leading article: A failure of common sense

Share
Related Topics

It will be six weeks before the High Court rules on the judicial review of the decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions not to prosecute the British computer nerd Gary McKinnon who has admitted hacking into 97 US military computers from his London home in the months following the September 11 terror attacks. Mr McKinnon, who has Asperger syndrome, a form of autism that leads to obsessive behaviour, claims he was looking for evidence of UFOs which he is convinced the Pentagon is suppressing. The US wants to extradite him to face a jail term of up to 60 years, which is why Mr McKinnon's lawyers want him tried in the UK.

Common sense dictates that Gary McKinnon should be treated with a light hand. Though he placed abusive anti-US messages on their computers he did no vandalism, created no viruses, stole nothing and did not act with malicious intent. Previous cases involving Britons who hacked into US computers have all been handled in the UK. Compassion also demands leniency. His autism is severe, and doctors have warned he could commit suicide if extradited. No purpose would be served by giving him a long prison sentence thousands of miles from his family.

Sadly our lawyers and politicians have failed on both common sense and compassion so far. Lengthy legal process have fallen short so far. A trial in the UK would test the dubious claim that his activities threatened US national security or have cost it nearly $1m. If he is found guilty of an offence under Britain's Computer Misuse Act 1990 he would face only a short jail sentence, or possibly just a requirement for psychological treatment.

Our courts and Government need to get a sense of proportion. The Home Secretary Alan Johnson should set aside any considerations about offering Mr McKinnon up as a sacrificial lamb to maintain relations between the UK and the US. He should halt the extradition process immediately and ask British prosecutors to reconsider their decision to leave the matter to the US courts. Such a move would also send a clear signal to the two High Court judges involved in the judicial review process. It is time that Britain's fabled sense of pragmatism asserted itself.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

Circa £45,000-£50,000 + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ac...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£12 - £15 Hourly Rate: Sheridan Maine: Are you an experienced Accounts Assista...

Sheridan Maine: Financial Accountant

£150 - £190 Daily Rate: Sheridan Maine: One of London's leading water supplier...

Sheridan Maine: Portfolio Accountant

£30,000 - £35,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you a Management Accountant with...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I might be an MP, but that doesn't stop me fighting sexism with my breasts

Björt Ólafsdóttir
 

Daily catch-up: opening round in the election contest of the YouTube videos

John Rentoul
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor