Harry Dunn death: diplomat's wife will not return to UK, Trump notes say

Briefing says Anne Sacoolas will not return, but Trump says it is ‘complex issue’

Donald Trump
Donald Trump said at the briefing: ‘We’re going to speak to [the diplomat’s wife] very shortly and see if we can do something.’ Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

A US diplomat’s wife suspected of involvement in a fatal road collision will not be returned to the UK for trial, according to briefing notes provided to Donald Trump.

Briefing notes for a press conference on Wednesday, caught on camera by a Washington Post photographer, told the president: “(If raised) Note, as Secretary Pompeo [the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo] told Raab [the UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab], that the spouse of the US government employee will not return to the United Kingdom.”

Harry Dunn, 19, died on 27 August when his motorcycle collided with a car allegedly being driven by Anne Sacoolas, who then left the UK.

Jabin Botsford (@jabinbotsford)

#trumpnotes @realDonaldTrump (If Raised) Note, as @SecPompeo told Foreign Secretary @DominicRaab that the spouse of the U.S. Government employee will not return to the United Kingdom. @SkyNews pic.twitter.com/7yDUdOm3Pd

October 9, 2019

Another of Trump’s talking points said it would be up to Sacoolas to decide whether to talk to British investigators. “(If raised) Note the spouse of the US government employee will have to consider, based on the advice of her legal counsel, whether to make herself available for questioning by British authorities,” the briefing said.

However, when asked about the case at the press event, Trump did not read from the notes but improvised without giving a straight answer.

“It is a very complex issue, as you know,” Trump said in a rambling reply. “So a young man was killed. The person that was driving the automobile has diplomatic immunity. We’re going to speak to her very shortly and see if we can do something. It was an accident … We’re going to speak to her and see what we can come up with so there can be some healing.”

Earlier on Wednesday Downing Street said Boris Johnson had asked Trump in a phone call to waive immunity for Sacoolas, and Dunn’s family announced they would start a civil action to try to force her back to the UK for questioning. UK officials are privately pessimistic about the US relenting.

The family had a 45-minute meeting with Raab that they said had left them frustrated and feeling like it had “just been a publicity stunt”.

Sacoolas, the wife of a CIA operative, left the UK days after the crash near RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire. The US state department claimed she was covered by diplomatic immunity.

Downing Street said Trump had expressed his condolences in his call with Johnson. “The leaders agreed to work together to find a way forward as soon as possible,” a spokesman said.

Later, in his comments to reporters, Trump said it sometimes happened that Americans drove on the wrong side of the road in the UK. “It was an accident. It was a terrible accident,” he said. It is unclear at this stage what caused the collision.

Raab met Dunn’s mother, Charlotte Charles, and his father, Tim Dunn, on Wednesday afternoon, having held talks with the US ambassador Woody Johnson on Tuesday.

Charles said afterwards: “I can’t really see the point as to why we were invited to see Dominic Raab. We are no further forward than where we were this time last week. Part of me is feeling like it was just a publicity stunt on the UK government side to show they are trying to help. But although he is engaging with us, we have no answers. We are really frustrated that we could spend half an hour or more with him and just come out with nothing.”

Radd Seiger, a spokesman for the family, said of the meeting: “To say we are disappointed with the outcome is an understatement.” Accusing Raab of being cold in the meeting, he said that after conversations with lawyers expert in the field of diplomatic immunity, it was not right to suggest Sacoolas’s claim of diplomatic immunity was not open to challenge.

He said the law on immunity was outmoded and understood by only a handful of experts. The family felt let down by Raab simply repeating the US assertion that it never allowed waivers on diplomatic immunity, he said.

Seiger said the family did not know much about the law around diplomatic immunity. “This is a complicated area of law with outdated laws, and many lawyers struggle to understand. The parents don’t know the law. They do not understand much of this, but this a right/wrong situation.”

Raab insisted he shared “the frustration of Harry’s mother and father. They have lost their son and the justice process is not being allowed to properly run its course.”

He said: “We are continuing to press the US authorities for their cooperation to ensure the police can pursue this case unimpeded and to allow Harry’s family to get justice. We will use every avenue and opportunity open to us to try to right the wrong and allow the justice system to follow its course.”

The Foreign Office said it was in no doubt that Sacoolas’s family was covered by diplomatic immunity under the Vienna convention, and that it could not challenge that fact.