'No ground' over hacker extradition

Laura Harding,Press Association
Wednesday 09 September 2009 15:02 BST

Home Secretary Alan Johnson today "gave no ground" in the face of calls not to extradite computer hacker Gary McKinnon, a cross-party trio of senior MPs said.

Former Labour minister Michael Meacher, ex-shadow home secretary David Davis and Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne met Mr Johnson at the Home Office to talk about the treatment of the hacker.

Mr McKinnon, 43, from north London, suffers from Asperger's Syndrome and is wanted for trial in the US on charges of hacking into the country's military networks.

But campaigners believe his only crime is being a "UFO eccentric" who searched for evidence of extra-terrestrials.

In July Mr McKinnon failed in his High Court bid to avoid extradition.

Mr Meacher, who sought the meeting, said the Home Secretary "gave no ground" but their case was stronger than before.

He added: "This case still has a considerable way to run, he gave no ground today but we believe we have opened up the opportunity for further pursuit of the case and we still believe we are right."

"I think it has been very worthwhile. I don't think this has concluded as successfully as we would have liked but I don't think that we expected he would immediately change his mind today, but I think we gave an extremely strong case for thinking again about this. This matter has been going on for seven years, it isn't going to be changed in the course of half an hour with the Home Secretary."

Mr Davis said: "The problem here is the Home Secretary finds himself constrained in incredibly narrow terms by the law the government created, the extradition act we all oppose.

"What that does is treat a young man who behaved foolishly and unwisely in the same category as serious terrorists who pose a serious threat to all our security, that's what's daft about this case.

"This is why we think he ought to talk to the Americans about not being so heavy-handed with a young man who is not a terrorist."

Mr Huhne added: "There is legal opinion that there is legal room for him to make a judgment to use his discretion.

"He is not doing that because I believe he is worried about the precedent it would set in other cases because of the worries he has of the limited room to manoeuvre in the extradition treaty and that's why it's disappointing that he is not prepared to go directly to the Americans and say, 'Look, there's a difference here between Gary McKinnon's case, which is one of Asperger's, and that of, say, Abu Hamza.'

"The two are complete chalk and cheese and I believe the Home Secretary ought to be making that case informally to the Americans."

The three politicians told Mr McKinnon's mother Janis Sharp, 60, that they would approach the American ambassador on her behalf.

Ms Sharp said she was pleased about their decision and said she would still seek a meeting with the Home Secretary: "I don't want to be confrontational, it's a plea."

She added Gary's condition was "very, very bad".

She said: "It's been seven and a half years of stress, it's taken its toll massively on Gary. It's changed him so much, it's affected him very badly, it's affected us all. Seven and a half years is crazy."

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