Foreign Office apologises for ‘upsetting’ emails about Harry Dunn’s family

Josh Payne, PA
·6-min read

The Foreign Office has apologised for “unprofessional and unacceptable language” used by officials in internal emails about Harry Dunn’s bereaved family.

Documents seen by the PA news agency showed a number of “upsetting” communications criticising his relatives and their media campaign.

One email sent in reaction to a call by the teenager’s mother for Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to resign in May last year labelled her language “excessive”.

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Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has been heavily criticised by the Dunn family for his handling of the case (Victoria Jones/PA)

Charlotte Charles had said “you wouldn’t treat an animal the way Government treated us”, following a “smoking gun” text message from a senior diplomat at the Foreign Office (FCDO) to their US Embassy counterpart saying they should “feel able” to put suspect Anne Sacoolas on the next flight home.

But commenting on Mrs Charles’s words, one official wrote: “Even aiming for someone bereaved that line about being ‘treated like animals’ is totally excessive!”

The teenager’s mother is understood to be deeply upset at the documents she has seen.

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy urged Mr Raab go to the House to apologise in person, adding: “If he does not come willingly, we will take steps to demand he does.”

A spokeswoman for the FCDO said “the views expressed by a small number officials were deeply inappropriate” – adding that they “in no way represent the views of the FCDO”.

Mr Dunn, 19, was killed when his motorbike crashed into a car outside US military base RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire in August 2019.

His alleged killer, 43-year-old US citizen Sacoolas, was able to return to her home country after diplomatic immunity was asserted on her behalf by the US Government.

Harry Dunn death
One Foreign Office official labelled Charlotte Charles’s language ‘excessive’ (Ben Birchall/PA)

The Dunn family have been represented by spokesman Radd Seiger since September 2019, but documents show FCDO officials have described him as “evil”, “aggressive” and “erratic” – despite admitting he had played a “media blinder”.

The documents were obtained by the family through subject access requests sent to the Foreign Office and Home Office.

One email read: “Everything the family say is completely wrong. The trouble is they don’t understand anything at all of the wider context – and the evil R (Radd) Seiger has not explained it to them…

“And so convinced are they of everyone’s bad faith that it never crosses their mind that anything of that we are telling them might be true.”

The family’s campaign for justice has led to Sacoolas being charged with causing death by dangerous driving, an extradition request being sent to the US by the Home Office, and the diplomatic immunity agreements at American military bases in the UK being altered.

Mrs Charles and the teenager’s father, Tim Dunn, are in the process of appealing over a High Court ruling on the immunity asserted on behalf of the suspect.

After the family had seen the latest documents to emerge, they received a letter of apology from Permanent Under-Secretary for the FCDO Sir Philip Barton, who described the emails as “isolated comments”.

In his letter, he wrote: “As you will see, the digest contains some unprofessional and unacceptable language that you may find upsetting.

“I want to offer my sincerest apologies for the hurt that this may cause.

“I also want to emphasise that these isolated comments are from a handful of officials and do not in any way reflect the wider views of the FCDO or the core team working with you to deliver justice for Harry.

“As you would expect, I have ensured that appropriate management action has been taken with the authors of these emails.”

The Foreign Office was heavily criticised after court disclosure documents showed a briefing note copied to Mr Raab’s private secretary from three days after the fatal crash – which revealed concern for some “very unpalatable headlines”.

A witness statement from the senior investigating officer at Northamptonshire Police said an official at the government department had requested the force delay telling the family that a waiver for Mrs Sacoolas’s diplomatic immunity had been declined by the US – adding that it would help if they could get their “ducks in a row” beforehand.

Sir Philip’s letter continued: “In my four months as Permanent Under-Secretary, I have seen the importance that the FCDO places on helping to secure justice for Harry and the respect we hold for the way the family have dealt with this terrible tragedy and the way you have supported them.

“I would once again like to reiterate how sorry I am for any upset these unprofessional emails may cause.”

Harry Dunn death
Documents show FCDO officials described Dunn family spokesman Radd Seiger (right) as ‘evil’, ‘aggressive’ and ‘erratic’ (Jacob King/PA)

But Ms Nandy argued the apology letter was not sufficient, describing the language used by FCDO officials as “inexcusable” and “shocking” which showed an “utter disrespect” for the Dunn family.

In a statement to PA, she said: “These shocking emails show utter disrespect for a bereaved family who are rightly fighting for justice for their son.

“To describe a grieving mother’s feelings as “excessive” is simply inexcusable.

“From the outset, Foreign Office ministers have refused to level with the family and repeatedly denied them vital information about how Anne Sacoolas was allowed to leave the country.

“To insult them and then try to spin their way out of it is beyond contempt. How could any UK citizen trust that this Government would not do the same to them in similar circumstances?

“The Foreign Secretary must come to the House tomorrow to apologise in person and outline the actions he will be taking to finally secure justice for Harry Dunn.

“If he does not come willingly, we will take steps to demand he does.”

Reacting to the comments made about the family, Mr Seiger told PA: “The campaign remains laser-focused on securing justice for Harry and remains willing to work with all parties involved to ensure that justice is done as soon as possible.

“However, it is impossible for us to overlook this unprofessional conduct on behalf of certain officials at the FCDO.

“It is appalling to see that whilst we were seeking justice for Harry as anybody would, these officials thought it was appropriate to engage in baseless keyboard warfare.

“I am more than happy to bear the brunt of any criticism, but to attack a bereaved, grieving mother who has never put a foot wrong in the campaign is scandalous.”

The Foreign Office said in a statement: “We are very sorry for the offence caused to the Dunn family and their spokesperson.

“The views expressed by a small number officials were deeply inappropriate, and in no way represent the views of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

“We will continue to do everything we can to support them to achieve justice for Harry.”