Harry Dunn was an outgoing 19-year-old, a skilled motorcyclist with a twin brother and four other siblings who happened to be driving through the valley just outside the Royal Air Force base in Croughton, England, on the evening of Aug. 27, when Anne Sacoolas crested the hill in her Volvo XC90 luxury SUV.
Sacoolas, the 42-year-old wife of an American who worked at the important intelligence gathering facility, had only been in the U.K. for three weeks. She pulled out of the base on the wrong side of the road, apparently forgetting for a moment the rules of left-lane British driving.
Dunn had no time to react when Sacoolas came straight at him, the Dunn family spokesman told The Daily Beast. The impact sent him flying over the top of the heavy SUV, causing multiple injuries. He died a few hours later in a local hospital.
At the scene of the accident, Sacoolas, whose 12-year-old son was reportedly a passenger in the Volvo, was hysterical over what she had done. The car had diplomatic plates, but witnesses who rushed to the crash site told Northamptonshire police that Sacoolas immediately took the blame and gave all her details, including her British and American cellphone numbers.
DMV records in Virginia, where Sacoolas previously was resident, show she had been cited for failing to pay attention while driving in 2006 but had paid the fine with no other penalty. Because Dunn was still alive when he was taken away by ambulance after the accident, Sacoolas was not arrested at the scene—nor was she checked for alcohol or drug use, according to a Northamptonshire Police spokesperson.
When police went to the Croughton base the next day to tell Sacoolas that Dunn had died, she was understandably upset and assured them she had no plans to leave the country. When they came back a second time to get more information, she was lawyered up and assisted by officials from the U.S. Embassy to the U.K..
The police went back again Sept. 15 to place Sacoolas under formal questioning in a wrongful death inquiry but she, her husband, Jonathan, and their three children had left the country, claiming diplomatic immunity. The U.S. Embassy in London said they did so on the advice of the U.S. State Department.
The Sacoolas family has a home outside Washington, D.C., but they have so far not been spotted there. Calls to the home by The Daily Beast were met with a busy signal. The State Department issued a statement confirming they had left the U.K. but would not confirm where the family is. “We express our deepest sympathies and offer condolences to the family of the deceased in the tragic Aug. 27 traffic accident involving a vehicle driven by the spouse of a U.S. diplomat assigned to the United Kingdom,” the State Department statement reads. “We can confirm the family has left the U.K.”
On Tuesday, Mark Stephens, described as an expert in diplomatic law, told The Guardian newspaper that Jonathan Sacoolas was not listed in London as a diplomat and questioned whether his family indeed had full immunity. U.S. personnel working at Croughton, reportedly a major listening post for the American CIA and National Security Agency, have been granted special diplomatic immunity.
The British Foreign Office did not respond to a call for confirmation of Sacoolas’ status and whether it should be waived. But the U.S. State Department was quite clear on the matter. “Any questions regarding a waiver of immunity with regard to our diplomats and their family members overseas in a case like this receive intense attention at senior levels and are considered carefully given the global impact such decisions carry,” it said in a statement, adding, “immunity is rarely waived.”
Dunn’s mother, Charlotte Charles, was only told last week that Sacoolas had left Britain. She is now pleading that Sacoolas return to the U.K. to meet with her of her own accord. She isn’t even asking that the supposed spy’s wife be punished for accidentally killing her son.
“We just don’t understand from one human to another, one mom to another, how you could just get on a plane and leave behind the devastation she has without even speaking to us, without an apology of any kind?” Charles told Sky TV on Tuesday. “We’re not a horrible family, we’re a usual U.K. family that just need to put a face to—what we have now is a name… without knowing who this person is properly we can’t begin to try and start our grieving process.”
The case has rattled the United Kingdom and of course has had a huge impact on the small community where the death took place and where the locals all refer to RAF Croughton as the “spy base.” They are used to mingling with families stationed inside. In fact, the Sacoolas children had just started attending a nearby private school called Winchester House, where Dunn’s father works as head of maintenance.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also involved, promising to take the matter up with President Donald Trump if the American diplomatic process won’t compel Sacoolas to return.
“I do not think that it can be right to use the process of diplomatic immunity for this type of purpose,” Johnson told reporters Monday. “I hope that Anne Sacoolas will come back and will engage properly with the processes of law as they are carried out in this country... If we can’t resolve it then of course I will be raising it myself personally with the White House.”
For the record, Sacoolas and her husband are both registered Republicans. If she does come back, it will likely be of her own free will. It is highly unlikely the American government would force her to return.
Normally, diplomatic immunity is granted only to those working out of the embassy in London under the 1961 Vienna Convention, which is meant to protect families of those working for foreign governments from politically motivated prosecution.
But in 1994, a special arrangement was reached to extend it to those at RAF Croughton, which is a “listening” post that handles a third of the U.S. intelligence surveillance in the region. Britain’s Independent newspaper reported in 2013, based on documents supplied by whistleblower Edward Snowden, that Croughton is one of two centers for “tech support activity” run by the Special Collection Service (SCS)—a joint CIA/NSA unit that operates a network of about 100 listening posts. Among its reported accomplishments: tapping into the cellphone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
That neither Trump nor his State Department have seen fit to waive Sacoolas’ immunity has not stopped Dunn’s family from campaigning for Sacoolas to do the right thing. The family has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to fight for justice for their son, even if that means traveling to the U.S. to petition Trump in Washington or even to find Sacoolas in person.
“This funding page is being set up to help the family and his twin brother Niall through these traumatic times,” the campaign note says. “And to build up a fund as the family embark on a campaign to search for Justice for Harry as the legal process unfolds.” They have also set up Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook pages under the #justice4harry hashtag where they post articles and information from the family.
In one message, the family thank well-wishers for showing the respect for Harry they would like from Sacoolas. “His love for his family and friends outshone everything and made him the caring and loving young man he was,” they write. “It’s not until now, with all the messages we have received, that we have come to realize how many people’s lives he has touched.”
RAF Croughton would not comment on the matter, but the Dunn family spokesman, Radd Seiger, whose own son was Harry Dunn’s best friend, told The Daily Beast that the family will not stop fighting for justice until Sacoolas is back in the U.K..
“President Trump, please listen,” Dunn’s mother said in her interview with Sky TV. “We’re a family in ruin. We’re broken. We can’t grieve. Please, please, let her get back on a plane, come back to the U.K. We could understand how she’s feeling, but more importantly, she needs to face justice, see what she’s done.”