Wife of U.S. diplomat flees UK after killing British teen in a traffic accident; U.S. refuses to waive diplomatic immunity

Many venues have reported that, on August 27, the wife of an American diplomat in England killed a teenage English citizen riding a motorbike. The woman, Anne Sacoolas (not named in most American reports, but named by Boris Johnson and several British outlets), was apparently driving on the wrong side of the road at the time, hitting and killing the 19-year-old Harry Dunn. The complication is that Sacoolas fled England after the crash and has claimed diplomatic immunity from prosecution. Read about the story here:

Although Britain, including Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, has asked the U.S. to lift the woman’s diplomatic immunity, all the news reports, including the NYT above, say that this is unlikely to happen (the US already refused a request for waiver of immunity on September 5), but England is still trying.

Why won’t the US waive immunity? Well, you can read about diplomatic immunity in this Guardian article, which notes that U.S. diplomats and their families are covered throughout the UK by international and UK law. And although these diplomats are urged to obey British law, apparently they don’t have to, and immunity is rarely waived. I’m not sure if every crime is covered, so does a diplomat who, say, murders an English person also get diplomatic immunity from prosecution? Readers who know about these things should weigh in. And does fleeing the country somehow reinforce that immunity, so you don’t get extradited?

In this case, Sacoolas committed what would probably be classified as either reckless driving, negligent homicide, and perhaps failure to report an accident. What she allegedly did was clearly a crime, as the UK police have also asked for Sacoolas’s arrest so she can be interviewed.  The NYT also notes these complicating factors (the emphasis is mine):

The crash, the investigation, and Mr. Johnson’s identification of the American woman could further strain the so-called special relationship between the two countries, which has already been tested numerous times during Mr. Trump’s presidency.

Mr. Trump has engaged in public spats with Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London and endorsed Boris Johnson as a strong candidate for prime minister while his predecessor, Theresa May, was still in office. Kim Darroch, the British ambassador to the United States, resigned after leaked cables said Mr. Trump was “radiating insecurity” and his administration diplomatically “clumsy and inept.”

Still, Britain must walk a fine line, most notably because it is hoping to sign a trade deal with the United States after it leaves the European Union, a fraught process that is complicated by the fact that the Americans may make demands the British find unacceptable.

Robert Singh, a professor of politics at Birkbeck, University of London, who specializes in American foreign policy, said that he cannot recall a more serious immunity dispute between the two countries.

He said in an email that while the police could visit the suspect in the United States, such a visit would most likely be of limited value. “This merely seems to postpone the moment of reckoning,” he said. “If she is indeed guilty of the crime, as alleged, then there will be immense pressure upon the U.K. government to initiate formal extradition proceedings — which, one would imagine, any U.S. administration (and this one, in particular) will resist.”

The victim’s parents said they would continue fighting to get justice for their son’s death.

And indeed, this is what irks me about the case. In this case, the U.S. should waive immunity, for the woman is accused of committing a crime and then fleeing the country. It is not a trivial incident, either, like that of the many U.S. diplomats and their families who refuse to pay traffic violations in the UK. Dunn’s parents are devastated and are asking for justice, and I am on their side. Imagine if it were your son, and the alleged perpetrator gets of scot free!

As for that, a SkyNews video revealed that the name of the driver is Anne Sacoolas, 42, whose husband works at the RAF base Croughton, known to be a US intelligence base. The Sky video adds that the U.S. Embassy advised Sacoolis and her family to leave the UK. (I don’t know how the police found her name, or whether she reported what happened to the police).

I don’t think this is what diplomatic immunity was intended to cover. In the interests of justice, the U.S. government, which has the power to life Sacoolas’s immunity, should do so. It’s simple justice.

 

109 Comments

  1. Posted October 7, 2019 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    US should definitely waive immunity in this case. I would have thought that in view of the fact that she was driving on the wrong side of the road when she hit the victim a case could be made for charging her with “causing death by dangerous driving”, which can carry a substantial jail term, and in view of her cynical attempt to abuse her husband’s position to escape justice probably should.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      I drove in England and I drove in Okinawa, Japan for 5 years and never drove on the wrong side of the road. You are more likely to drive on the wrong side when you first come back to the states. I would suspect the woman was drinking.

      • Posted October 7, 2019 at 11:24 am | Permalink

        Thank you. I have also just spotted on twitter what I believe to be an all time first – myself and Piers Morgan being in agreement about something!

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted October 7, 2019 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

          I’m going to quote Stephen Fry’s definition of ‘countryside’ here: ‘the killing of Piers Morgan’. Unfortunately it loses something when it’s written down as opposed to said out loud.

      • Posted October 8, 2019 at 4:47 am | Permalink

        I did it once in France. I came up to a roundabout from a fairly narrow road with no road markings and started going around it the wrong way. My passenger, also British, soon pointed my mistake out to me, in fairly forceful terms.

        So it does happen, but, I think context matters. When I did it, it was out in the countryside and there were literally no other cars in sight. If Mrs Sacoolas did it in town where there are lots of visual cues, it’s difficult to explain, unless she was impaired in some way. e.g. as you say, drunk.

        Assuming she wasn’t drunk, her best option was to face the music. She could have claimed a momentary lapse of concentration and she would have got away with a relatively light sentence (probably not involving prison time).

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted October 8, 2019 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

          I’ve been driving in the country and come around the corner to find someone who was obviously a tourist heading towards me on the wrong side of the road. I imagine it would be easy to do when there are no other cars around.

          It was a difficult situation though. I didn’t know whether to avoid him or wait for him to recognize he was in the wrong and move to the other side of the road. I could see that his eyes were wide open and there was a look of panic on his face. Perhaps he was thinking the same thing I was. He moved to the right side of the road.

          In the case in Britain, I think diplomatic immunity should be waived. Ime, it is for serious offences. Even though NZ is small-fry, some big countries have allowed their citizens who normally have diplomatic immunity to be tried when the crime is serious e.g. sexual assault.

          I think Trump refusing to waive diplomatic immunity is another example of his failure to understand what’s normal behaviour, or what’s the right thing to do, when it comes to foreign relations.

  2. phoffman56
    Posted October 7, 2019 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    “…Britain must walk a fine line, most notably because it is hoping to sign a trade deal with the United States…”

    Yeah, right. And as long as USian voters are ready to elect Drumpf or anyone similar, such a trade deal would be really valuable wouldn’t it? Or at least supposedly valuable exactly till the first time the Brits failed to cave in to one of the official USian administration’s mafia-type shakedowns! Then it gets unilaterally withdrawn from. But the no-deal Brexit supporters appear to be just about as naive as the US ‘unemployable-class’ Republican-voting morons.

  3. Paul Monne
    Posted October 7, 2019 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    This is exactly what diplomatic immunity is meant to cover. It would be very easy for a foreign government to trump up charges against family members of diplomats in order to put pressure on diplomats and the country that they represent.

    While would would expect our friendly allies to not press false charges, the whole concept on diplomatic immunity rests on diplomats and their families being immune from foreign prosecution or harrassment of any kind.

    It is incumbent our leaders to select our diplomats well in order to avoid ugly incidents. Sometimes bad things happen.

    This incident, however tragic, is a poster child. A typical Motor Vehicle Accident involving a death can lead to no charges, some charges involving a fine, or serious time in jail charges. It would be tempting to over-charge the American in this case, and pressure the US gov’t to plea down to a fine, in exchange for favorable terms on a diplomatic issue.

    This sucks for the family of the victim, but the alternative is worse.

    Just like free speech, the dark side of diplomatic immunity is a necessary evil.

    • Harrison
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      This comment makes no sense because in cases where a diplomat behaves badly their home country typically WAIVES immunity, which is the whole point of the article.

      This is not a case of “oh well nothing we can do” because waiving immunity in the clear-cut case of a reckless driver does not in any way threaten immunity for any other diplomat.

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      What absolute bollocks. As Harrison says countries decide on whether or not to enforce this all the time, by either waiving immunity or not. It’s not some kind of rule that’s written in stone.

      And worst of all is the apparent fact that the US embassy ADVISED the woman to flee the country – that is just nauseating. She kills a teenager, flees the scene, rings up the US embassy…and their advice is ‘leave the country asap’?? If true it’s despicable.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      It would be tempting to over-charge the American in this case, and pressure the US gov’t to plea down to a fine,

      The US system of plea-bargaining is pretty much non-existent over here. Once charges have been laid, that’s what gets taken to court.
      I assume the alleged offender has already gone onto the international list of persona non grata, and that’s her husband’s career destroyed. [Slow-hand-clap.mp3]

    • Mike
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      I think of immunity for diplomats (and their families) in a similar way to tenure for academics (but of course not their families): it’s not a do-whatever-you-like permit; instead it’s a do-your-job-without-biased-interference-from-your-host. Academics are like entrepreneurs working within gigantic incubators, and tenure is a license from our host (the university) to do scholarship that seems best to us but not without limits. If an academic breaks some important law or convention while engaged in scholarship then there are consequences including dismissal, but tenure protects the scholar from trumped-up charges by the university that are designed to interfere with that scholarship for political or other reasons. Same should apply to diplomats: immunity protects them from harassment and interference by the host country, but shouldn’t protect from unbiased straight-up prosecution for crimes. Where it’s hard to tell whether a case is persecution or prosecution, then it’s a judgement call that I guess should favour the diplomat (tie goes to the runner etc.). But in this case it doesn’t seem hard to tell.

    • Filippo
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

      I gather that you’re saying, “Too Bad, So Sad.” “Tuffy, Tuffy Toenail.”

      Can’t you say whether, in your personal opinion, this woman should suffer some sort of consequence? Get swatted with a duster? At least read the UK driving regulations? Pay $1 to charity? Clean her own toilet once a week for a year?

      I’m reminded of SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) that the U.S. imposes on countries where it has military personnel. I gather that military service members suffer some sort of consequence for their crimes. But not diplomats and their assigns. All hail “American Exceptionalism.” Would that we all could be diplomats.

    • Posted October 8, 2019 at 4:53 am | Permalink

      British justice doesn’t work like that. The judiciary takes great pains to be seen as independent of the executive, and, in fact, frequently thwarts its plans (example: the recent suspension of parliament calamity).

      Mrs Sacoolas would have been treated entirely fairly in the British courts. In fact, more than fairly, she probably has enough money to hire good lawyers.

  4. Randall Schenck
    Posted October 7, 2019 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    You are right, this is not what immunity is suppose to cover. And to skip out on our closest alley is really a joke. This woman needs to face the music. I do not know specifically what the state department has in these cases but I know a little about SOFA, standard of forces agreements that specify cover what happens with military members overseas. We have SOFA agreement with every country we put military in and they can be different in various places. But the bottom line is that the military will be protected from local law regarding some matters. However this does not include things like vehicle homicide or attacks against local citizens in the foreign country. EXAMPLE: several times in the past we have had military members in Okinawa involved in killing or raping citizens of Okinawa. They are turned over to Japanese and are tried and do time in jail in Japan. Sometimes for many years. If you break the law, especially against local citizens while in their country, there should be no escape from their laws.

    While I was in Okinawa a military member ran over and killed a woman and two children. He went to jail in Okinawa for the maximum sentence, which I think is only 6 or 7 years. SOFA agreements do not protect U.S. citizens from this and I see no reason that state department employees should be protected either.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      Sorry, that’s Status of Forces Agreement, not standard. SOFA

    • EdwardM
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      Military personnel are not protected by diplomatic immunity and I must disagree with your first sentence. As Paul Monne said just above you, this case is exactly what diplomatic immunity is supposed to cover. It happens that England is a strong ally (and generally good blokes) so it is highly unlikely that they would falsely charge a family member of a foreign diplomat, but because it can (and has) happened, families of diplomats are protected. As Mr Monne says, it sucks for the family of the victim, and a general sense of justice, but this IS what diplomatic immunity is supposed to be about.

      His family will be free to seek some kind of justice in civil courts and she will not be protected there.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted October 7, 2019 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

        Sorry but I cannot agree. The state department may have this kind of immunity but it should not apply in cases such as this. Why is a state department spouse any more protected than a military member. If we were talking about Saudi Arabia or someplace really backward, maybe. Hell they cut off hands for stealing. But this is England for crap sakes. Where do you think our laws came from?

        • eric
          Posted October 7, 2019 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

          Why is a state department spouse any more protected than a military member.

          So that good married people will take these jobs and not be forced to separate from their spouses (or children) out of fear of the host country using them as a political bargaining chip. You can’t have senior ambassadorial staff being compromised by the “gee, nice spouse you have there, be a shame if something happened to her” type political maneuvers.

          If we were talking about Saudi Arabia or someplace really backward, maybe.

          The whole point of such arrangements is for use in cases when you aren’t seeing eye to eye with the host country.

          And I’m sure other countries wouldn’t agree with your idea, either. For example, I can’t possibly see the UK saying “eh, it’s the U.S., so our ambassador and staff don’t need immunity.”

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted October 7, 2019 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

            Is this something you got from years of work in the foreign service or maybe from a paranoid contractors shop? The country can make their immunity agreement as strict as they want, I do not care. But when things happen, such as this, then you wave that immunity with allies and cut the Donald Trump vocabulary about “too bad if something happens to your spouse”. Probably just a joke right? Ha Ha

            • eric
              Posted October 7, 2019 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

              I agree with you that the morally right thing for the US to do is to waive immunity. However, do you seriously not see the value in giving ambassadors’ families immunity? I certainly do.

      • Posted October 8, 2019 at 4:55 am | Permalink

        Nobody is arguing that diplomats and/or their families shouldn’t have diplomatic immunity, they are arguing that it should be waived in this case.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      And to skip out on our closest alley is really a joke.

      When did Canada get involved?

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 7, 2019 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

        Canada? Saudi Arabia, surely.

        [vbeg]

        cr

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted October 8, 2019 at 8:12 am | Permalink

          Da, tovarish?

  5. Mike Anderson
    Posted October 7, 2019 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Doing what is right and just isn’t exactly the Trump administration motto.

    Abusing diplomatic immunity to this level will stress the whole system, all to the benefit of some idiot too stupid to remember which side of the road to drive on.

    • rickflick
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

      America First!

  6. Posted October 7, 2019 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    “cynical attempt to abuse her husband’s position to escape justice” isn’t said in Jerry’s report. Maybe she did report it to their side, they told them they should pack up and leave, and they did.

    Of course, immunity should be lifted, but then why the outrage? The US does not even accept the human rights court in The Hague and would rather invade the Netherlands than having a member of the military tried there. See the “Hague Invasion Act”.

    • Posted October 7, 2019 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      No that phrase was not in Jerry’s report – it is my own take having read several accounts of the incident.

  7. Posted October 7, 2019 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    When I heard about this over the weekend, my first thought is that there’s no way Trump waives immunity, unless the lady’s husband is a Democrat or Never Trumper.

    I realize there are important considerations involved in diplomatic immunity but it always irks me as a stupid convention, along with letting leaders of otherwise Democratic countries pardon convicted criminals.

    • Filippo
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

      I’ve read over the years of NYC getting ticked off at foreign diplomats at the UN breaking parking laws with impunity. Social media seems to be an excellent means of keeping such behavior at the forefront indefinitely, human attention deficit notwithstanding.

  8. Dominic
    Posted October 7, 2019 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    She co-operated with police at first & said she would not leave the country. I would have supposed there would be no custodial sentence or only a short one – a university professor of mine killed three people with careless driving about 25 years ago & had a three month sentence. That was an accident like this.

    • Filippo
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

      I wonder if his sentence would have been different had he worked on the county road crew.

  9. eric
    Posted October 7, 2019 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure if every crime is covered, so does a diplomat who, say, murders an English person also get diplomatic immunity from prosecution?

    AFAIK, every crime is covered. And this is the case for foreign diplomats in the U.S., too. Which is why if you live in a city like DC or NY with a large amount of foreign diplomats, you should steer well clear (figuratively and literally) of any car with a diplomatic license plate.

    And does fleeing the country somehow reinforce that immunity, so you don’t get extradited?

    I think this is a ‘possession is 9/10ths of the law’ type thing. If she were still in the U.K., technically she couldn’t be arrested and technically the U.K. authorities couldn’t hold her. However, they might be very tempted to do exactly that, using some reason that might not stand up in international court but would give them a year or two of stalling time in which to imprison her.

    Another possible reason why the State department would tell her to go home is safety. I.e. the potential of vigilante violence being done to her, if she stays in the U.K.

    • phoffman56
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      Can you give us even a single example of vigilante justice being carried out within England, by a group of citizens of England (other than possibly members of the IRA who happened to be such citizens), carried out within the last, say, 100 years?
      I ask this without knowing much beyond having lived there 3 times in decades past for a period totalling 5 or 6 years. My feeling is that finding one may be difficult.
      Vigilante behaviour in all American countries, i.e. to be clear, all countries in North or South America, would seem to be much more common. I do not regard revenge by one individual against one other to be within the definition of ‘vigilante’.
      Also I assume that carrying out of justice by legal authorities over that period in most other ‘1st world’ countries, other than parts of the US, to be within the meaning of that word.
      In the latter case of course, it was often racist ‘justice’ for a nonexistent crime.

      • eric
        Posted October 7, 2019 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

        I cannot. What’s your explanation for why the State department advised her to flee?

        • Posted October 8, 2019 at 5:05 am | Permalink

          Did the State Department advise her to flee?

        • phoffman56
          Posted October 8, 2019 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

          If the Usian authorities did, it was presumably to flee for the same reason murderers and bank robbers etc. tend not to hang around the scenes of their crimes. These days, the latter is seldom to flee from vigilante mobs, of course.

    • phoffman56
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      Can you give us even a single example of vigilante justice being carried out within England, by a group of citizens of England (other than possibly members of the IRA who happened to be such citizens), carried out within the last, say, 100 years?
      I ask this without knowing much beyond having lived there 3 times in decades past for a period totalling 5 or 6 years. My feeling is that finding one may be difficult.
      Vigilante behaviour in all American countries, i.e. to be clear, all countries in North or South America, would seem to be much more common. I do not regard revenge by one individual against one other to be within the definition of ‘vigilante’.
      Also I assume that carrying out of justice by legal authorities over that period in most other ‘1st world’ countries, other than parts of the US, to be within the meaning of that word.
      In the latter case of course, it was often racist ‘justice’ for a nonexistent crime.

      • phoffman56
        Posted October 7, 2019 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

        Sorry, double. This not double-double, I hope!

      • phoffman56
        Posted October 7, 2019 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

        A typo: place a ‘not’ between “to” and “be” near the end.

  10. John Crisp
    Posted October 7, 2019 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    This opens up an intriguing possibility. The UK is currently holding Julian Assange in Belmarsh prison, despite the fact that he has served his UK sentence for “bail jumping”. So essentially, he is now being held exclusively (there are no other charges pending) for extradition to the United States. Could be an opportunity for an interesting stand-off: you give us your alleged manslaughter perpetrator, and we will give you… ummh an Australian citizen and journalist wanted in the US for revealing inconvenient truths. Seems like a fair exchange…

    • Posted October 7, 2019 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for reminding us of this awful possibility.

      • Filippo
        Posted October 7, 2019 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

        Am reminded that Bernie Madoff is in prison for life. As heinous as his crime was, he did not kill anyone.

    • Posted October 8, 2019 at 5:09 am | Permalink

      That won’t happen. This case will not influence what happens to Assange in any way.

      The government in the UK doesn’t have that kind of power to influence what the judiciary does.

      • rickflick
        Posted October 8, 2019 at 9:16 am | Permalink

        Does the UK have a Supreme Court, and if so, how are it’s members selected?

        • Posted October 8, 2019 at 9:32 am | Permalink

          Yes, it was the Supreme Court that had the last word in Boris Johnson’s parliament prorogation case.

          The judges are selected by a special commission set up by the Lord Chancellor (who is a member of the government but the only political appointee involved).

          https://www.supremecourt.uk/about/appointments-of-justices.html

          It would be anathema to British judges to be seen to be overtly political in any way. By the way, this is something that is true of most senior government employees. My brother works for the Office of National Statistics and if he ever expressed a political opinion in public e.g. on social media, he would be in a lot of trouble.

  11. phar84
    Posted October 7, 2019 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    This boils down to figuring out exceptions for a firm law/rule.
    Or Sacoolas could be sanctioned in the US, and leave the diplomatic immunity rule intact.

  12. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 7, 2019 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    So much for the foundational USian principle that no man (or woman) is above the law. Waive extradition, for chrissake.

    Personally, whenever I’m in a another country, I leave the driving to others, especially if its one where cars use the other side of the road. I like to think I’m a safe driver (don’t we all?) who stays within the strict letter of the traffic laws (mostly), but when I drive, my mind tends to wander; I do some of my best daydreaming (or, as I like to think of it, best excogitating) while driving. Sooner or later I know I’d forget I’m in another country and cross over into the right-hand lane and a potential head-on.

    No thanks, you drive. Or point me to a cab, bus, or train.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      Ken, just to let you know, driving on the other side, the left side is not a big deal. It is certainly best if the car is set up for it, with the steering on the right but it’s not necessary. I drove the MG in England for a year and a half at least. That vehicle was set up for the states. I then drove 5 more years in Okinawa with a proper Japanese car.
      Certainly you do not want to drive in London, you would be lost but driving out in the country and small towns is no problem.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 7, 2019 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

        As someone who has driven all their life on the left, I found driving ‘wrong side’ (in France/Italy) no problem. It was easy to remember which side to be on.

        The main time to be cautious was after exiting a one-way street, and at junctions when one had to remember to look for approaching traffic on the main road on the ‘opposite side’ from what one was used to (this also applied when just crossing the road on foot).

        Just twice I set off down the wrong side of the road and remembered and swerved back after a few yards.

        It does help to be driving a local/rental car with the steering wheel on the ‘correct’ side for the country.

        cr

      • Posted October 8, 2019 at 5:16 am | Permalink

        Being on the wrong side (from your perspective) of the road is the least of your problems when driving in London. Most British drivers avoid driving in London if at all possible even though they are used to driving on the left.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      Waive extradition, for chrissake.

      Hasn’t LaTrump specifically ruled out that ever happening? No extradition of USians, ever, regardless.
      Not that one would expect, for one second, for him to actually consider himself bound by previous statements. International treaties, that sort of thing.

      • Posted October 7, 2019 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

        Without knowledge of diplomatic legalities involved, my first take was that diplomatic immunity should be waived and that she should be extradited. I didn’t immediately think about the potential for political pressure on the diplomat or country of the spouse. Perhaps if diplomats and their families intentionally or unintentionally commit crimes in the country they’re stationed in, they should remain in the diplomatic enclave and never go out without accompaniment. Ridiculous, I know. But I’m very tired of laws being waived or considered inapplicable to a chosen few while administered in the greatest severity to those less fortunate.

        • eric
          Posted October 7, 2019 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

          Host nations can request the ambassador/staff be replaced. I imagine this is probably the preferred option (vs. ‘stay in the compound and never go out’) in cases of crimes in the gray area between ‘more serious than a traffic ticket’ and ‘so serious we want you to waive immunity so we can prosecute them here.’

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted October 8, 2019 at 8:11 am | Permalink

          There is little dispute about the facts of the case – excepting the “no comment” on the question of drink being involved. So presenting the evidence through the US legal system would probably be acceptable … except that America consider all their citizens to be exceptionally immune to prosecution for crimes committed abroad. If I understand it correctly.
          Somehow, I don’t see LaTrump wanting to change that law.

  13. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 7, 2019 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    So much for the foundational USian principle that no man (or woman) is above the law. Waive extradition, for chrissake.

    Personally, whenever I’m in a another country, I leave the driving to others, especially if its one where cars use the other side of the road. I like to think I’m a safe driver (don’t we all?) who stays within the strict letter of the traffic laws (mostly), but when I drive, my mind tends to wander; I do some of my best daydreaming (or, as I like to think of it, best excogitating) while driving. Sooner or later I know I’d forget I’m in another country and cross over into the right-hand lane and a potential head-on.

    No thanks, you drive. Or point me to a cab, bus, or train.

  14. Posted October 7, 2019 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    That’s not an “accident” Jerry, that’s a “crash” or “collision”. Accident infers lack of intent (certainly here) and also not reasonably avoidable.

    Think of the phrase “drunk driving accident”. It’s kind of like that.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      There is strong suspicion here (though to the best of my knowledge, no public statements that would prejudice a trial) that there was a drink driving element at the scene.

  15. Moishe
    Posted October 7, 2019 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    We had a similar situation in Canada 18 years ago. A Russian diplomat, driving drunk, hit and killed an Ottawa woman and seriously injured another woman. He claimed immunity in Canada, but Russia, acting somewhat responsibly, tried and convicted him of involuntary manslaughter in a Russian court, and sentenced him to 4 years in a work camp.

    There is no reason why the US government could not try this woman in the US judicial system if they don’t want her to face trial in the UK.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      Very good, a reasonable alternative.

    • D.H.
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

      This is actually what is supposed to happen and not in any way special.

      Diplomatic immunity protects one from the whims of the legal system in the guest country, not from eventual punishment by the home country-

      And even if the guest country seems fine compared to the host country today, who knows whether they will not introduce the death penalty for littering or change the standard of proof in criminal trials to whatever the prosecution states is assumed to be true tomorrow?

      • Filippo
        Posted October 7, 2019 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

        It’s not enough. Shall the offender never have to bear up under any consequence? A scuffed shoe? Being interrupted in mid-sentence? A food item not cooked to her excruciatingly exact specifications? Occasionally not getting her way in some piffle negotiation?

    • EdwardM
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      The family can seek redress in US civil but not criminal courts.

      The US does not prosecute crimes committed in other countries except where Congress specifically cites. Extraterritorial jurisdiction can be invoked in cases involving conspiracy charges in which someone outside the US conspires or attempts to commit a crime in the United States, for the theft of federal property, counterfeiting US currency or forging federal documents, money laundering and murder with the intent of furthering a U.S. domestic criminal enterprise.

      • D.H.
        Posted October 7, 2019 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

        Interesting, I did not know that. This could explain why the U.S. does extradite their own citizens in some cases.

        Some countries do not extradite their own citizens under any circumstances, but consider themselves competent to prosecute crimes commited worldwide.

        So in this case it seems the U.S. should either change the law to prosecute crimes of their diplomats themselves or allow the usual extradition proceedings (if this is how things are handled if a normal U.S. citizen commits a crime elsewhere) *after* the diplomat has returned to the U.S.

      • Jim Danielson
        Posted October 7, 2019 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

        I recall a man being arrested after travelling to Thailand for having sex with a child.
        The Protect Act allows for arrest and prosecution for certain sex crimes committed outside of American soil, namely commercial sex or sexual abuse with anyone under 18 and sex with anyone under 16.

        The Canadian Marc Emory was arrested by Canadian authorities and extradited to the US for various drug crimes committed in Canada. The charges included money laundering but that charge was dropped. Emory had a business that sold seeds which he shipped all over the world. Eventually Emory plead guilty to conspiracy to manufacture marijuana.

        On the other hand the US has refused to extradite bounty hunters in incidents in Canada and Mexico. In both incidents bounty hunters crossed the borders and kidnapped people who had outstanding warrants in the USA.

        • EdwardM
          Posted October 7, 2019 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

          The list wasn’t exhaustive and you’re right, someone who commits a sex crime on a minor overseas can be prosecuted in US courts under the Protect Act. Mr Emory was indeed charged for crimes he committed in Canada, but he was laundering money and conspired to transport his drugs to the US. There have been many such cases as this is one of the areas Congress specifically set aside for extraterritorial jurisdiction (and which has passed muster with the SCOTUS).

          The case referred to here, as tragic as it is, is not among those that can be brought before a criminal court here.

    • Mark R.
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      This seems to be a reasonable response…

    • rickflick
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

      Maybe there is already an agreement to have her tried in the U.S. But, then why would Boris be screaming bloody murder?

  16. Geoff Toscano
    Posted October 7, 2019 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    There is no suggestion anywhere that the lady in question had been drinking. Assuming that was not an issue (I’m guessing she was breathalysed regardless of diplomatic immunity). If she had been then she’d be in more serious trouble but, assuming she wasn’t, then the charges would be causing death by dangerous driving, max sentence 14 years, or causing death by careless driving, max sentence (unless she had been drinking, in which case it’s also max 14 years). The reality is that in most cases of ‘accident’ it’s likely to be careless driving, the issue being that she appears to have been driving on the wrong side of the road, and she’d probably be charged with dangerous driving but accept a plea of careless. A custodial sentence is not inevitable, though very possible, and would probably be suspended, combined with a fine and points on license.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      Points on license? So you are insinuating she goes right back to driving?

      • Posted October 7, 2019 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

        Well pointed out, Randall. I believe that a custodial sentence would be justified, but I would absolutely insist that this person never be allowed behind the wheel of a car again (for the record, I have effectively given myself a life ban from driving, since I know enough of myself not to trust me in sole control of a ton of metal, with lives resting on the outcome).

      • eric
        Posted October 7, 2019 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

        Unless the US extradites, and if Edward M is right, she’ll be driving without penalty back here. The USG can’t take someone’s license away unless they first prosecute (or at least charge) the person with a crime.

      • Geoff Toscano
        Posted October 7, 2019 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

        Sorry Randall, I should have been clearer. I was referring to sentencing practice generally; clearly licence implications would be irrelevant to the case in question.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      There is no suggestion anywhere that the lady in question had been drinking. Assuming that was not an issue (I’m guessing she was breathalysed regardless of diplomatic immunity).

      That is precisely the suggestion that is being made in comments by the public in the UK. TTBOMK, the press have been sticking to the rules about not prejudicing trials, but they aren’t doing anything to dispel the odour of suspicion that adheres to the case.
      “Death by dangerous driving” certainly caries the potential of jail time, but that’s a pretty uncommon outcome. UNLESS there is a drunk-driving element. Which is exactly why people suspect the woman has fled justice.
      I’m not sure if her husband has left the country. If he hasn’t, I strongly suspect that he’s not going to be allowed to leave.

      • Geoff Toscano
        Posted October 7, 2019 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

        Obviously if drink was an issue then the matter is much more serious. I haven’t been able to find the time of death but nor have I seen any suggestion of drink, other than on social media. All we can do is wait and see.

        • JezGrove
          Posted October 7, 2019 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

          FWIW, the accident happened at about 20.30 British Summer Time (BST) according to the BBC: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-northamptonshire-49961679

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted October 8, 2019 at 8:06 am | Permalink

          Having had family members killed by dangerous driving, with the killer not even losing his license, to flee the country in response to what would most likely be counted an unfortunate, if serious, accident … there is a stink to the behaviour.

  17. Steve Pollard
    Posted October 7, 2019 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    FWIW, the BBC PM news programme this evening pointed out that a few years ago there was a serious pileup in DC which was entirely the fault of a Georgian diplomat. The Georgian Government voluntarily(?) waived his diplomatic immunity in order to make him face the music.

    I don’t know any further details; but sauce, goose, gander, you know?

    • JezGrove
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I heard the PM programme’s example and came here to make the same point. It shouldn’t be too hard to distinguish between governments seeking a prosecution (and in this case the local police have yet to even bring any formal charges) on political grounds and those where a genuine offence has possibly been committed. In Iran the diplomatic immunity defence might stick, but in the UK? Seriously?!

  18. merilee
    Posted October 7, 2019 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Sub

  19. Posted October 7, 2019 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Why doesn’t she just go back on her own? Sounds like she has no conscience. History is unlikely to be kind to Anne Sacoolas if she does not return. Has she apologized?

    • Filippo
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

      “Has she apologized?”

      Yes! Has she even done that?

  20. Ronald Offenkrantz
    Posted October 7, 2019 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Disgusting act of cowardice by Sacoolis who fled rather than face justice for killing this young man. Diplomatic immunity ought not be applicable to a spouse who kills and runs. Americans are better than that. Social media should jump on Sacoolis who deserves no sympathy.

  21. Neil
    Posted October 7, 2019 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    It is also worth noting that her husband appears not to be a ‘diplomat’ at all but an intelligence officer, who due to one of those ‘special relationship for who exactly?’ arrangments was also covered by DI along with his colleagues.

    The normal thing is for her DI to be waived in this type of situation, anyone remember last time we had normal in international relations?

  22. BJ
    Posted October 7, 2019 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    How horrifying. To be that family, your son killed by a woman who can’t even be punished. A government that won’t allow her to be punished.

  23. Harrison
    Posted October 7, 2019 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    I would like to add that it’s a bit absurd that it’s the UK who’s having to walk on eggshells over this because they “need a trade deal” with the US. Because Brexit. And because Trump is so mercurial that any little thing could set off a temper tantrum.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

      Just tell Trump how great he is and he’ll throw anyone under the bus for you. You can even murder journalist in a Turkish Embassy.

      • JezGrove
        Posted October 7, 2019 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

        He’d probably even drive the bus. Though afterwards it would be “fake news” even if you caught him on camera…

  24. Michael Fisher
    Posted October 7, 2019 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    RAF Croughton acts as a joint intelligence analysis centre [JIAC] & it is run by the UsAFE [an almost ironic acronym!]. In 1994 the US & UK struck a deal that ALL those working in RAF Croughton, including their families, would have diplomatic protection. It is a very important hub for US military & spook communications – there will be people there from every US acronym related to the USAF & spookiness. A few years back it was suggested to be the centre from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile ‘phone was monitored.

    Jonathan & Anne Sacoolas + three young kids moved there only a few weeks before the Road Traffic Incident & I’m sure the family had accommodation on-base as the waiting list for out-in-the-community 3/4 bed houses is around 6 months. The wait is partly because a prospective rental/lease house & neighbourhood have to be vetted & security measures installed. Usually this means a family waits for another US family to rotate out of a suitable already-vetted house & then they move in, much simpler than starting a fresh check procedure.

    Anne Sacoolas with one of her kids as passenger drove out the station gates & 400 yards on the wrong side of the road before colliding with Harry Dunn & his motorbike. [some reports say it was immediately outside the gates, but there’s a clear view in both directions, it’s a straight one-lane-each-way “B” road in very good condition with a clear painted line down the middle]

    Papers claim she has a conviction back in the USA for driving without due care & attention [don’t know what that is called – it was in the state of Virginia I think]. The three kids were at the fairly local private [fee paying] £19,000/yr-per-head Winchester House School in the centre of Brackley town, less than five miles from the base.

    Being a sparsely populated area with small communities, it is no surprise that the deceased Harry’s father, Tim Dunn is head of maintenance at that very same school. One of the firefighters who attended the RTI knew Harry & Tim. I suppose there must be a whole host of kids at the school whose parent[s] work at RAF Croughton which might cause some unease…

    This is where the Americans have gone wrong – they should have offered up Anne Sacoolas unasked rather than the embassy advising the family to scarper. It is important to keep good relations with the locals & there is quite a bit of local resentment anyway as house rental prices around there are artificially inflated as are other things Americans are prepared to pay for [or rather the US Gov pays for] & the base is fairly self-contained with not enough dollars spent outside. Nice for estate agents & car rental companies & that’s about it.

    • Filippo
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      ” . . . there is quite a bit of local resentment anyway as house rental prices around there are artificially inflated as are other things Americans are prepared to pay for . . . .”

      Goes to show that capitalist landlord greed and venality is not restricted to the U.S.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted October 7, 2019 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

        Useless comment Filippo – well up to your usual standard of irrelevance.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

      “This is where the Americans have gone wrong – they should have offered up Anne Sacoolas unasked”

      Yep. She might have been able to muster some sympathy in court and anyway her sentence would likely have been far less than she would get in a US court for the exact same offence.

      cr

    • Posted October 8, 2019 at 5:27 am | Permalink

      The way you describe what happened, it sounds like she just made an honest mistake. If you come out of a side turning e.g. the base gate onto a road with no visual cues to remind you you need to be on the left, it would be easy to end up on the wrong side of the road, particularly if turning right.

      She might have got away without going to prison.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 8, 2019 at 9:08 am | Permalink

        I agree she could (probably) have pled (pleaded?) mitigating circumstances.

        Re visual cues, I’m surprised they don’t put up a sign leaving the camp “Remember to keep LEFT” and even arrows on the road.

        In New Zealand, on tourist routes, just each side of a scenic viewpoint or parking area likely to be used by tourists, there are big directional arrows painted on each lane of the road, just as a reminder, and quite effective I think.

        cr

        • Posted October 8, 2019 at 9:19 am | Permalink

          Re: the sign. Yes such signs are not uncommon at the exits of ports and airports, but if she was maybe a bit distracted with the child in the car, she might not have seen it.

  25. Randall Schenck
    Posted October 7, 2019 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    I heard on TV the PM said he would be calling Trump if it does not get worked out. I think he is pissed and rightly so.

    I don’t see how she got licensed to drive so quickly over there. At minimum they make them sit through several days of film and ground school prior to even getting in line. Maybe they by-pass all the normal procedures on these people and let them get the license while still in the states. I have heard of that being done but it is stupid. You end up with a licensed driver who doesn’t know shit before getting in the car.

    In Okinawa both myself and wife had to pass a written test on Japanese driving laws. We also had to drive a car on base with a test person to actually show we could drive. Our stateside license did not mean anything.

    The only thing I remember doing wrong when driving over there was turning on the windshield wipers instead of the signal to make a turn. That took some getting use to.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

      Unfortunately we have an ineffective, ‘soundbite’ PM who has been forced into having a view on a subject he would rather have buried.

      Boris will go through the motions of appearing firm & decisive until BREXIT is delivered [or isn’t delivered & he’s stabbed in the back]. Boris doesn’t give a damn about justice in this case & now he’s involved, rather than behind-the-scenes diplomacy we can expect another Boris diplomatic cock up/gaffe SIMILAR TO THIS ONE involving a British citizen jailed in Iran [Boris opened his gob when he should have been quiet].

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

      Here’s an RAF Mildenhall LINK – quite old & presumably still applicable. The policy is likely to be the same at other UsAFE UK sites:

      Driver Training

      As a member of UsAFE, you must have a UsAFE permit to drive in the UK. To obtain this permit, you will need to attend Local Conditions Drivers Training within 15 days of arrival, after completing some initial training which is available through the Base Intranet. The training will form part of your in-processing and this will be arranged by your unit Orderly Room. The training has been designed to give you enough information to get in your vehicle and learn to safely drive in the United Kingdom. Please ensure that your license is still valid before you arrive in the UK, and you can prepare for the written test by studying the UK Highway code using the appropriate link below.

      It looks as if the familiarisation involves knowing the rules of the road in the main & it doesn’t appear to be a firm requirement that one needs to pass a driving test on the roads if you have a US licence [could be wrong – only quickly scanned the page] – training with a local driving school seems to be advised, but not required.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

      “The only thing I remember doing wrong when driving over there was turning on the windshield wipers instead of the signal to make a turn. That took some getting use to.”

      I do that all the time, right now. My wife’s Mazda Tribute (Japanese origin) has the switches in the ‘old British’ position (wipers on left, signals on right). My 1978 Ford Escort, made after British Ford went ‘common’ with European Ford, had them in the ‘European’ position (turn signals on left, wipers on right) but I swapped them round with a little bit of fudging and a manufactured bracket, it made sense at the time since our other cars were Japanese or older British so had them that way. But my BMW has them in the ‘European’ position (wipers on right, turn signals on left). So when I hop out of one and into the other… that’s the hardest thing to adjust for.

      HOWEVER, requiring ‘foreign’ drivers to take a course before driving on the ‘other’ side would be a major hassle. Both when I go to Europe (I don’t want to spend 20% of my holiday time taking driving lessons, even if they were available at my town of arrival!), and for visitors coming here to New Zealand. The fewer bureaucratic impediments to travel there are, the better. Fine to require that someone be properly licensed in their own country before travelling, and maybe even pass some sort of test ‘at home’ before they go (when it isn’t chewing into their expensive holiday time).

      cr

  26. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted October 7, 2019 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    What are these ‘diplomats’ aka spooks doing on a British air force base? If they’re going to abuse diplomatic immunity like that then IMO Britain should just chuck them all out. See what the State Department makes of that…

    cr

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

      There’s around ten UK “RAF Bases” that are joint UK/US or solely US [mostly they are US]: RAF Lakenheath, RAF Croughton, RAF Digby, RAF Welford, RAF Fairford, RAF Feltwell, RAF Upwood, RAF Barford St John, RAF Fylingdales & RAF Menwith Hill [probably incomplete list].

      RAF Welford [picture below] is particularly interesting as it houses the largest US conventional bombs store in Europe. I’ve put in an ellipse to the left to give a sense of scale – there’s a baseball diamond in there & three tennis courts. The right ellipse is the entrance & exit off the motorway which is signposted “Works Unit Only.” The two rectangles are underground bomb storage. The top rectangle white bits are the huge block paving panels which disintegrate if there’s an explosion & directs the force into the air. The lower rectangle is older [50s & 60s] with a rectangular pattern of partitioned bunkers that also blow upwards – there’s massive concrete & soil berms around each one.

      The next war with whomever they shift the stuff over to Fairford or Mildenhall by motorway to rearm the B52s etc. When the bombs are past their ‘use by’ they go to Wales by motorway & then put on a ship.

      welford

      Motorway entrance:

      works

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted October 7, 2019 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

      Spook Balls at RAF Croughton. Where the sheep are grazing is a wide no-go strip surrounding 3/4 of the installation – best to wear a woolly jumper & Bahhh convincingly if you wish to go off the fenced entrance road:

      balls

  27. Mardifleur
    Posted October 8, 2019 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    …I am an American of MANY decades and unequivocally state here and now that this ‘Anne Sacoolis/coolas’ needs to be extradited to the UK imMEDiately to face her charges, her crimes…One, damned near murdering this beautiful young boy, and secondly, running like the lily-livered coward she IS to avoid trouble for HERSELF…Disgusting, disgraceful, and appalling….!!!

  28. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted October 8, 2019 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    The rumour going around now is that the NSA operative in trouble … was not actually on the list of accredited diplomats.

    Oh dear.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted October 8, 2019 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      That is probably Craig Murray saying “there is no Jonathan Sacoolas on the official diplomatic list & neither Sacoolas nor his wife has any right to claim diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention.”

      Which is all besides the point because in 1994 the US & UK struck a deal that ALL US citizens working at RAF Croughton & their families, have diplomatic protection. Obviously such people will not appear on a diplomatic list [although there are indeed ‘spies’ on said diplo list].

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted October 8, 2019 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      This GUARDIAN article from today reports

      Mark Stephens [an expert in diplomatic law] says that Jonathan Sacoolas, the husband of Anne Sacoolas, was not on the official diplomatic list, meaning he and his dependants may not be allowed the same level of protection from prosecution by claiming diplomatic immunity.

      Stephens said the Foreign Office had confirmed this to him. The FCO was not immediately able to comment.

      The article does not mention the 1994 UK/US agreement.

  29. Elena
    Posted October 18, 2019 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Was she tested to determine if she had been drinking?
    That would be standard procedure in a fatal crash hete.


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