Harry Dunn: Why was a civil claim brought and what have we learned?

·4-min read

Harry Dunn’s parents have “resolved” their damages claim filed against their son’s alleged killer Anne Sacoolas in the US state of Virginia.

The 19-year-old was killed when a car being driven on the wrong side of the road crashed into his motorbike outside RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire in August 2019.

Sacoolas, whose husband Jonathan Sacoolas worked as a technical assistant at the base, left the country a few weeks later after the US asserted she was entitled to diplomatic immunity.

Harry Dunn death
Harry Dunn was killed in a road crash in August 2019 (Family handout/PA)

Here, the PA news agency looks at why the civil case was brought and what we have learned from the damages claim.

– Why was a damages claim filed in the US and not the UK?

The US Government asserted diplomatic immunity on suspect Anne Sacoolas’s behalf and she was able to return to the US. An extradition request was then submitted by the Home Office but that was rejected by the US State Department in January 2020.

The Dunn family were advised that, although there could be no criminal proceedings in the US, they could bring a civil claim for damages against Sacoolas as her immunity was no longer valid when she returned to her home country.

– Why was diplomatic immunity asserted on Anne Sacoolas’s behalf?

The US Government and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s (FCDO) position is that dependents (such as spouses or children) of US administrative and technical staff at RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire had diplomatic immunity at the time of the crash.

– What had happened in the civil case before it was resolved?

Lawyers acting on behalf of Anne and Jonathan Sacoolas had attempted to throw the case out on the grounds it should be heard in the UK, despite admitting she would not agree to face trial due to a “concern” she would not “receive fair treatment”.

Judge Thomas Ellis dismissed Sacoolas’s submissions that the UK was a “more convenient” forum, keeping the case in Virginia – describing the motion as “not warranted”.

Harry’s parents, Charlotte Charles and Tim Dunn, then flew out to the US to give evidence under oath as part of the “discovery” process.

Harry Dunn death
Charlotte Charles (left) and Tim Dunn flew to the US to give evidence under oath (Andrew Matthews/PA)

– What did the judge have to say about the case?

In his judgment which threw out Sacoolas’s motion to dismiss the claim, Judge Ellis said: “While it is commendable that defendant Anne Sacoolas admits that she was negligent and that her negligence caused Harry Dunn’s death, this does not equate acceptance of responsibility.

“Full acceptance of responsibility entails facing those harmed by her negligence and taking responsibility for her acts where they occurred, in the United Kingdom.”

– What would have happened if the case had not been resolved?

Anne Sacoolas and her husband Jonathan would have had to have gone through a process known as a “deposition” in which they would have been compelled to give evidence under oath.

If the case had not been resolved by the end of the depositions, a trial would have taken place in the civil courts in Virginia where a panel of jurors would have determined what financial settlement, if any, the Dunn family would be entitled to.

– What new information has come to light through the civil claim?

The civil case has unearthed a great deal of previously unheard material, such as the State Department roles held by the Sacoolases at the time of the crash.

The Alexandria District Court in the US State of Virginia heard the pair’s work in intelligence was a “factor” in their departure from the UK – with the couple leaving for “security reasons”.

The court heard Sacoolas had not returned to the UK due to a “fear” that because of the “media attention, she would not have a fair trial”.

Her lawyer John McGavin said she was “currently apologetic” and “accepted responsibility for the accident”.

-Does a resolution in the civil case mean the Dunn family’s campaign has ended?

The Dunn family’s main objective was for Anne Sacoolas to face a criminal charge through the UK justice system.

Former foreign secretary Dominic Raab said a path had been cleared for a “virtual trial or process” to take place and Harry’s parents remain hopeful Sacoolas will take part in a criminal process.

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