Julia O'Dwyer: My son may be a pirate, but I won't have him shipped off to America

The mother of Richard O'Dwyer, who faces extradition to the US, tells Jonathan Brown why he is a victim of injustice

Jonathan Brown
Thursday 15 March 2012 01:00
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Like most mothers with children of university age, Julia O'Dwyer paid little attention to what her son Richard was doing on his computer. She knew he had built a website and that he put a lot of work into it. She also knew that he was proud of his achievement: "It was his baby and people loved it," she said.

So when City of London police launched raids on the family home and Richard's digs in November 2010 in search of "the trappings of wealth", she was understandably astonished.

"Richard just had his student room and they said 'Well he's got nothing has he?' I said 'no he hasn't. He's got his laptop, his computer that you have taken, his camera and his phone, and a few gadgets'," she says. "They came looking for Mr Big and they found Mr Stupid Student."

Mr O'Dwyer had incurred the wrath of the mighty multibillion-dollar US movie and entertainment industry after launching a website called TVShack which offered links to films and popular television shows. What started as a hobby had grown in popularity, eventually attracting advertising.

By the time the authorities became interested in the operation, Mr O'Dwyer was studying interactive media with animation at Sheffield Hallam University and earning enough money from his site to run a second-hand car and take his friends out for the occasional pizza.

Last Thursday, the Home Secretary Theresa May signed the order authorising the 23-year-old's extradition to the United States, where he could face up to 10 years in jail for copyright offences and a potential legal bill of £2m.

But his mother Julia is fighting his corner. The palliative paediatric nurse, who normally administers to dying children, has devoted herself ferociously to the task of keeping her son in the UK.

In the process she has mastered the intricacies of extradition law, international copyright legislation, the internet, media campaigning and political lobbying on both sides of the Atlantic.

Despite the latest setback, she is determined her son will not be sent to New York to face the courts – despite an offer to pay his legal fees by billionaire producer-cum-entrepreneur Alki David.

Sitting in the lounge of her Bolsover cottage on the edge of the Derbyshire Dales, she said: "We are not even thinking about having a trial in America. Richard is not going to be some poster boy for the pirates in America."

Mrs O'Dwyer's efforts have bought her in contact with other high profile "victims" of Britain's controversial deportation laws. She has pooled knowledge with the mother of computer hacker Gary McKinnon, swapped notes with the so-called NatWest Three and is in contact with the family of extradited businessman Chris Tappin.

The O'Dwyer's argument, which they intend to put before the High Court in the coming days, is straightforward. "Richard is not trying to evade justice and he may or may not have committed something that was a crime in America. That is not the issue," she says.

"The issue is that it's not a crime here, and he has never been to America. If he has committed a crime in this country then he should be prosecuted in this country. But they know they won't get a conviction in this country because of previous cases."

There is mounting pressure on the Government to make good on its pre-election promise to reform Britain's extradition laws. Last night it was reported that during his trip to the White House David Cameron had told US President Barack Obama that he wanted a review of their countries' arrangements.

Having lost count of the number of court appearances she has made in the past year, Mrs O'Dwyer is becoming a powerful critic of the inadequacies of the process, its "bungling incompetence" and the way the odds are stacked against anyone caught up in it.

"If we were fighting in a court of law in England, well we wouldn't be bothered because he'd be safe at home in this country," she says. "But the extradition court is only interested in extradition – it's not really interested in guilt or innocence."

Meanwhile, Richard is continuing with his studies as best he can. "I know he's 23 but he's still my son," she says. "To me any family member or even a friend would need help to deal with this because it is a totally destructive, terrifying thing to be in."

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