Saving Gary McKinnon, страница 14
Chris Huhne was friendly and interesting to talk to. He was keen to help and although there were no fixed ideas on how he could do this, his ‘Freedom Bill’ held real promise and we knew we had solid support from the Lib Dems. Chris Huhne suggested I should become an MP and I said that I’d scare them if I did.
I met with Keith Vaz at the Labour Party conference in Brighton, also a fantastic setting, with the sun shining again.
In stark contrast to the Lib Dem Party conference, the security for the Labour conference was massive, with a very large police presence. However, this coincided with a happy and relaxed atmosphere in Brighton. Everyone was cycling along the promenade, as the road is flat and perfect for bicycle rides.
Keith Vaz came to meet us, bursting with ideas and with a very upbeat and positive attitude. He had an incredible network of influential people both in the UK and in the US, including Jesse Jackson.
Keith Vaz was one of only ten Labour MPs who voted against their own government and insisted that the 2003 extradition treaty with the US should be reviewed and forum added as previously promised.
Mr Vaz informed us that the Home Affairs Select Committee, which he chaired, had already arranged to raise concerns about the extradition treaty and we discovered later that the majority of this excellent cross-party group were also in favour of Gary being tried in the UK.
I then met with Michael Meacher at the Labour conference. Michael is a very principled MP and is one of a minority of Labour MPs that I recognise as being socialist, in the way that Tony Benn was.
Michael had teamed up with Chris Huhne and David Davis on 9 September 2009 to champion Gary’s case and also appeared on the BBC’s The One Show with me.
Matthew Downie from the National Autistic Society (NAS) was well organised and an absolute dynamo. I could imagine Matthew being in a powerful political position in the future. He also suggested he might be able to arrange for us to be offered the use of Alexandra Palace in Muswell Hill if we wanted to arrange a concert in support of Gary.
Next on the list was the Conservative Party conference in Manchester on 7 October 2009, where I met with shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling. The place was buzzing and I somehow felt that the Conservatives were going to win the election this time round.
The conversation we had was friendly and productive. Mr Grayling said that, as Home Secretary, he would review all the medical evidence and would do all he could to have Gary tried in the UK if the Conservative party was elected. I said, ‘You say that now but once in power when you are Home Secretary, the same government advisers will give you the same advice and will say you have to extradite.’
‘No,’ he said. ‘Ministers decide and I will decide.’
Dominic Grieve raised Gary’s case in his speech at the party conference, and said:
And can somebody tell me how counter-terrorism will be served by extraditing Gary McKinnon to the United States for hacking into government computers in search of UFOs?
Ministers say they can’t block his extradition.
They can’t override the law.
But we have proposed a change in that law, sitting in the House of Lords right now, that would prevent the McKinnon case ever happening again.
Why hasn’t the government accepted it?
When will Gordon Brown wake up then stand up for the rights of British citizens?
Our extradition laws are a mess.
A Conservative government will rewrite them.
Mark Lever from the NAS is another amazing man and he and his colleague Mathew Downie had arranged for me to do a speech at the Conservative Party conference NAS fringe meeting on autism, vulnerable people and the law.
Shortly before I sat on the panel along with Gary’s excellent MP, David Burrowes, we got a phone call from Gary’s barrister, Ben Cooper, to say that the Supreme Court had ruled against even hearing our appeal to review the medical evidence. This was in spite of them having agreed to allow Ian Norris’s appeal, which was given on the same point of law as Gary’s! Due to his mental health issues, Gary should have had more rights for his appeal to be heard under that point of law.
Ian Norris had worked his way up from the shop floor to become managing director of Morgan Crucible. Despite winning his case in the Lords, he was subsequently extradited to the US for obstruction of justice relating to the crime of price fixing, despite the Lords ruling that price fixing was not a crime in the UK at that time.
I had to ring and tell Gary the devastating news that the Supreme Court refused to even hear his appeal. I didn’t want him to read it in tomorrow’s newspapers. I knew that Gary would be distraught and might give up; I was away from home and afraid of what he might do. I spoke to Lucy first to make sure she was there with Gary to support him, but she was also distraught and I couldn’t console them.
I joined the panel and as I started to deliver my speech at the conference I felt warm tears beginning to fill my eyes and I thought, ‘No, Janis.’ I hoped no one noticed and hadn’t heard my voice beginning to break.
I remember seeing Mathew Parris in the audience before every emotion inside me came pouring out in a speech that magnified my anger, anguish and heartbreak.
Matthew Downie from the NAS was standing at the back listening intently and said afterwards that the speech was one of the most emotive and riveting he had ever heard.
Emotion transmits to other hearts and minds and I just hoped that some there felt the same as Matthew – and were influential enough to help Gary.
I wasn’t allowed to mention the court’s decision to anyone as it wasn’t to be officially announced until the next day, but Matthew Downie knew by my reaction and my side of the telephone conversation I had with Gary’s barrister.
• • •
The following day when I spoke outside the Royal Courts of Justice I was distraught, angry and ready to explode. I could feel this power and fury flowing through my blood and I knew that no one was going to take my son. I was in fight mode. I felt Gary was betrayed by our own courts and by our own government. I wouldn’t allow myself to be shocked into silence by people in power who thought it was fine to betray their own citizens with a one-sided extradition treaty they’d been fooled into believing was intended only for terrorists.
At times like this the words flowed from within with no thought required. The feeling is akin to playing guitar when doing a gig and your mind wanders and the notes come pouring out, creating a heartfelt solo that leaves you wondering where it came from.
Despite our courts and politicians pointing to Ireland and France as examples of countries with the same treaty both Ireland and France had included the right to refuse to extradite their own nationals. It seems that having a ‘special relationship’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
I was worried about Gary. I could see his demons were taking hold of him. His mood was odd and his mind wasn’t with us. When I got home something made me look on the internet at something Gary had asked me to order some weeks before. I don’t know why it came into my head but it did. I looked through all of the things I had ordered and there it was: potassium chloride. The definition on the internet read, ‘a metal halide salt composed of potassium and chlorine’.
It sounded harmless enough. I carried on reading until I came to the words ‘uses of potassium chloride’. My heart almost stopped as I read the words ‘used in medicine in lethal injections’. A chill ran through my body.
I was shaking as I carried on reading and came to the words ‘potassium chloride is used in the US to execute people on death row’.
I could hear torturous muted screaming sounds like a wounded animal and realised that the cries were coming from me, as I sat hugging my knees to my chest, rocking backwards and forwards.
When I was able to speak, I rang Lucy, told her what I’d found and asked her to search the flat. Lucy rang back crying when she had eventually found the potassium chloride and disposed of it. This substance was lic
Gary’s whole demeanour told us that his life was at imminent risk.
I rang Matthew Downie at the NAS. He could tell how panicked I was and immediately arranged for us to meet Professor Jeremy Turk at Gary’s barrister’s office in Doughty Street Chambers.
Gary didn’t want to leave the house and was refusing to come with me but I knew he had to see someone urgently and I had no intention of leaving him alone. He trusted me and he trusted Lucy and Karen, so Lucy and I told him that Karen needed to speak to him urgently and we had to go. It was difficult to get Gary to even walk out of the door. His mind was in a dark place and it was becoming almost impossible to reach him. I knew I could lose him if we waited but we eventually got him into the car and into town.
Doughty Street Chambers is next to the Charles Dickens Museum, which used to be Dickens’s London house. Sadly our judicial system was also beginning to feel Dickensian.
When we arrived at the chambers Professor Simon Baron-Cohen was there waiting to introduce Gary to Professor Turk. Both of them had just flown into Heathrow and came straight from the airport to Doughty Street.
We waited outside while Professor Turk spent time with Gary, who broke down and wept continuously. We were informed that Gary was most definitely suicidal and he was put on immediate medication. Gary hates taking medication but for the first time he didn’t resist it: although the drugs made him feel zombie-like, his mind needed to be cocooned for now. It was a survival thing and we were all painfully aware of just how close we had come to tragedy.
We made arrangements for Professor Turk to oversee Gary’s psychiatric care on a regular basis and to monitor his medication.
• • •
In November 2009, Home Secretary Alan Johnson announced that he would not block extradition.
Later that month I gave evidence to the cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee in Portcullis House. Gary’s barrister told me that it was unprecedented for a lay person to be invited to give evidence under these circumstances. Committee chairman Keith Vaz obviously understood the importance of taking evidence from people directly affected by extradition.
I felt that I managed to get important points across and that the committee listened and took on board what I’d said.
Alan Johnson was called afterwards to give evidence and to be questioned by the committee. A lot of what he said was clearly wrong but as he gave evidence after me, I was unable to correct his errors.
Just after a break, before going back into the inquiry, Alan Johnson walked past me in the corridor outside the Thatcher Room, completely surrounded by a female contingent, apparently to ensure I couldn’t speak to him. I held out my hand to shake his and he responded with an extremely brief brushing of the hand, while continuing to walk along the corridor, not stopping for a second. His female colleagues/advisers encircling him as he walked made for an incredibly odd scene.
The taste of salty tears on my lower lip made me annoyed at myself. It’s just that I had stupidly expected more from him, and even from the female colleagues who encircled him. Alan Johnson was shown inordinate compassion from others after his mother died when he was a child. You foolishly assume that compassion begets compassion, but although Gordon Brown had felt compassion for Gary, it seems that Alan Johnson had not.
No politician in or out of power should be allowed to pronounce someone guilty when there has been no trial, as this flies in the face of the foundation of British justice. To publicly attack a British citizen, presumably in order to ingratiate yourself with another government, is to my mind an act beneath contempt.
• • •
As if things weren’t bad enough, in December 2009 death threats were directed against Gary and me, and against almost every journalist who had reported the least bit favourably on our case. One such email said, ‘We will start hurting British citizens every day that you continue your stance against US extradition … You will be contacted when this happens so you know we are for fucking real.’
Afua Hirsch from The Guardian wrote: ‘The irony is that one of the arguments being put forward by McKinnon is that such is the intensity of hatred towards him in the US that he would not be treated fairly. Maybe death threats against journalists will end up forming part of his legal team’s submissions.’
The journalists called the police in. The death threats Gary and I received from the same source were personal and more sinister, and frightening enough that we also had to call the police in. We started watching the cars behind us, wondering if we were being followed, and would turn off several times to lose any car we had concerns about. We would start to think people were looking sinister, like the man in sunglasses at the bus stop outside the house who looked out of place somehow, and like a cartoon image of a spy. We were suddenly thrust into living in a Bourne Identity-type scenario. Anyone approaching us suddenly or unexpectedly, or calling at our door, possibly wanting to read our meter or clean our windows, put us on our guard.
Death threats have to be taken seriously and we became vigilant to the point that we even started checking under our car for bombs. We were shocked when one day we found an object on the underside of our car. It looked like a small mobile phone inside a pouch fixed to our car with magnets. A friend who was with us told us it was a tracker and we stupidly pulled it off in a panic and smashed it into the ground. Had it been a bomb, we would most likely have been blown to smithereens.
We had no idea whether whoever was tracking our movements was the person or people who had sent us death threats, or the US government, or a journalist trying to find out where Gary was so they could photograph him. Of course, we imagined only the worst.
There had been a man running a website for American expats who claimed to have worked for the US embassy and professed to have been to funerals with American Presidents, and his rhetoric against Gary seemed similar to the style of writing that was used in the death threats. The police investigated and found that the threats came from a man in America. No prosecution was ever initiated by the UK or the US. We firmly believed that had the position been reversed the US would have extradited whoever was responsible for death threats against one of their countrymen.
It was a freezing cold day on 15 December when Gary’s friend Dhiren and Lucy helped arrange a demo for Gary outside the Home Office. Mark from the Free Gary website publicised detailed directions and excellent advice on what to do and what not to do and what rights protesters have. Nick Clegg knew about the demo and his assistant rang asking me to meet Nick Clegg in his office for a chat. I had to say no as the demo was a priority, but I said that he was welcome to come along to the demo and to speak to me there.
Nick’s assistant got back to me a few times to press me on coming to Nick’s office for a chat but I was pleased when Nick decided to brave the cold and to stand by my side to demonstrate in support of Gary remaining in the UK. Gary’s brilliant MP, David Burrowes, was also there, plus Keith Vaz, Danny Alexander, Kate Hoey, Alistair Carmichael, Chris Huhne and also Andrew MacKinlay, who had bravely resigned over Gary. A large contingent of Twitter friends came to the demo to add their support. I was proud of them, and of all of the politicians who braved the intense cold and took the time to come out onto the street outside the Home Office to support Gary and to hold ‘Free Gary’ banners in the air.
The thing is, at one time you would see a demo and interviews on TV and the next day they were gone and on to something new. But now if you record the footage and post it on Twitter and YouTube, you
A young primary school boy from Belgium was asked by his parents what he wanted for his birthday, and he said that he wanted to go to London to join the demo to support Gary’s fight against extradition – and, amazingly, his parents brought him. We were incredibly moved.
I had never used social media, including Twitter, which was fairly new at the time, until Wilson signed me up for it to help in my fight for Gary. It proved to be one of the best tools for campaigning that there is. There are some really good people on Twitter who care passionately about justice, including experienced campaigners and organisations only too eager to help if you are floundering.
Graham Linehan, writer of Father Ted and The IT Crowd, contacted me when I first went onto Twitter and, although we had never met, posted tweets to his followers asking them to follow me. There are also MPs and other celebrities on Twitter who leap forward to support you without being asked. Sally Bercow was also very supportive and as well as reposting my tweets she spoke up for Gary on Twitter and on TV many times, as did Terry Christian on The Wright Stuff. Sally and Speaker John Bercow have a son with autistic spectrum disorder, and supported Gary being tried in the UK.
Twitter friend Mike Garrick, who I’ve never met in reality, campaigned constantly for Gary and he and his friend Ed Johnson were responsible for helping over 5,000 people to put ‘Free Gary’ twibbons on their Twitter avatars.
We were thrilled when Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross added the ‘Free Gary’ twibbon logo to their avatars and kept it on for months. This helped to bring even more supporters on board.