I have always taken a fairly robust view on the question of whether Gary McKinnon should be extradited to the United States, tending to take the position that the crimes of which he is accused are potentially extremely serious and that the US Courts should be given an opportunity to consider his case.
I have, of course, listened to the views expressed stridently by those who argue that Gary McKinnon’s Aspergers condition means that it would be better if he were tried in this country.
Most people have taken a consistent position on the issue – one way or the other.
Not, however, the Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg – as can be seen from a piece in the New Statesman:
“On 15 December 2009, a photograph was taken of Janis Sharp, the mother of Gary McKinnon, and the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, outside the Home Office in Westminster. They were there to protest against the extradition of McKinnon, aged 44, to the US on charges of computer fraud. Eight years earlier McKinnon, an Asperger’s syndrome sufferer, had hacked repeatedly into Pentagon and Nasa networks.
“They could try him here if they wanted to, so it’s up to the government here to do the right thing,” Clegg said in an interview that day. “If Gordon Brown really had a moral compass, he would do the right thing and try Gary McKinnon here instead.”
Little more than five months later, on 25 May, Clegg, the new Deputy Prime Minister, said of the McKinnon case in a radio interview that “what I haven’t got the power to do – neither has the Home Secretary, neither has even the Prime Minister – is to completely reverse and undo certain legal aspects of this. But that, of course, you wouldn’t want politicians to do. It’s legally very complex.”
Opposition made adopting principled positions simpler. Clegg also stated that his personal view on the case remained unchanged – McKinnon should ideally be tried in a British court. But his equivocation on the law had upset Sharp and, when I visited her recently at her home in Hertfordshire, she wept as she spoke about her son.
“I think we all thought that we had waited until this, the new government; and then we’d done it. They’ve all made promises,” she said, referring to the support offered to the McKinnon campaign not only by Clegg but other senior Lib Dem MPs, as well as David Cameron.”
It seems that promises made in Opposition don’t count for much once you are in the Coalition Government.