Gary McKinnon: a harmless oddball’s triumph over tormenttelegraph.co.uk | Sep 27th 2012
Way to go, Mrs May! After 10 long years of official cowardice, the Home Secretary announced that computer hacker Gary McKinnon will not be sent for trial to the US. As he suffers from Asperger’s and is a suicide risk, Gary had his extradition blocked using the human rights convention, which says that no one shall be subjected to “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.
What a pity Theresa May had to use the Human Rights Act, so adored by terrorists for its ability to keep them away from any kind of justice. Unfortunately, thanks to New Labour, our Home Secretary no longer has the ability to protect Britons from unfair extradition. I bet Mrs May wishes she could have pulled on a pair of her carnivorous kitten heels and kicked US officials up the hard-drive. Far better to have cited common sense and common decency as the reasons to keep Gary here. Truly, never has there been such an example of using a sledgehammer to crack a sci-fi nut.
Since he was a little boy, Gary McKinnon has been obsessed with UFOs, and as an adult he remains other-worldly. In 2009, I met the self-taught computer nerd and his lovely mother, Janis, in their Hertfordshire home. At the age of 43, Gary, had already been living with the threat of extradition for seven years. He had admitted hacking into Pentagon and Nasa systems, but only on a wacky quest to find information about extraterrestrials.
It was a surreal afternoon. There was Gary, the kind of pale, dreamy eccentric who would struggle to pose a threat to his own kettle, at the centre of a transatlantic tug-of-war. I sat there sipping tea with Janis and her son, trying to get my head around the fact that this pacifist vegetarian enjoyed the same “enemy combatant status” as Osama bin Laden.
With serious loonies to track down, how could the US have turned its big guns on this gentle obsessive who managed to embarrass them from a bedroom in Crouch End? Was Gary solely to blame for the fact that a “top-secret” naval installation proved so easy to hack into that the north London boy left a helpful message for them: “Your security is crap!”?
US authorities had been caught napping in the sensitive period after 9/11, and I reckon someone had to pay the price for wounded pride. Instead of an evil megalomaniac bent on world domination, they picked on Gary. It is to the discredit of America that that great nation was unable to tell the difference between Dr No and Doctor Who.
At first, I thought Gary’s story was like some zany Peter Sellers film. Except it wasn’t funny. Exhaustion and fear were etched on Janis’s face. Since March 2002, the soft-spoken Scotswoman has woken each morning with a pounding heart. She knew her boffiny boy had been a complete bloody idiot, but now he could face up to 60 years in a foreign jail, despite being too timid to travel on the Tube.
As a sufferer of Asperger’s syndrome, Gary is as literal-minded and arrogantly naïve as a junior chess-club champ. He cannot tell a lie. When the UK’s High-Tech Crime Unit burst into his flat, he happily confessed what he’d been up to. Gary was told he would get six months’ community service.
Anyone normal would agree that sounds about right. Not US prosecutors. The decade-long battle to extradite Gary began. And so did Janis’s punishing vigil at the computer, gathering legal precedents from around the world and fighting bullies such as the prosecutor who boasted that Gary would “fry” if he didn’t give himself up.
Their lowest moment came when the European Court of Human Rights refused to hear Gary’s appeal against extradition. The very same day, that court allowed Abu Hamza, the hook-handed hate preacher to stay in Britain. Cue hollow laughter.
It is simply outrageous that David Blunkett signed an US-UK treaty in 2005 (never debated in Parliament) that means that American prosecutors don’t have to show any evidence to get the UK to hand over one of its people. That treaty was designed for terrorists and war criminals. Sadly, as we know, it is never “safe” for war criminals or terrorists to return to the country where they’ve butchered and bombed. Oddball nationals like Gary McKinnon have no such protection.
Now, at last, his story has a happy ending. Mind you, if ever there was a breach of human rights, it is the twilight zone of dread to which Janis and Gary have been condemned this past decade.
I want to salute Janis, a shy woman who had to learn to fight like hell for her cub. Smiling for the first time in years, she said they had won a victory for the little person.
And so they have. Theresa May would consolidate her own personal triumph with a reform of the extradition law. Whenever it would be more just, people already resident in the UK should be tried here. It would be a huge leap forward for Britons to be treated as nicely as foreign murderers.
As for whether McKinnon should be prosecuted for his crimes, I think most of us would agree that he has done quite enough time already. In one last twist to the story, surely someone at MI6 must have Gary’s number. If anyone can secure a firewall, it’s the geek from Crouch End who broke into the Pentagon. Go on, give him a call! Let the hacker turn gatekeeper and the space invader be our defender.
Beware the national treasure...
Two inquiries have been set up into the Jimmy Savile scandal. What use will they be when so many children went unheard at the time it mattered? Kids such as the nine-year-old cub scout Kevin Cook, who was lured into Savile’s BBC dressing room in 1976 with the promise of a Jim’ll Fix It badge. After molesting the boy, Savile warned him not to breathe a word: “No one would believe you anyway – I’m King Jimmy.”
Mr Cook, now 45, recalls that a member of staff opened the door when the assault was taking place. “Oops,” said the man, and shut it again. Oops? Dear God.
So there you have it. The arrogant, royal prerogative of the Talent, and the shaming, craven helplessness of ordinary people when it comes to holding such stars to account.
Janet Cope, Savile’s former PA, says that if the ululating DJ were alive today, he would have “somehow wriggled out of it. He thought he was untouchable because he was hand in glove with the hospitals, royalty and the prime minister.”
Remember, this sinister jester with his wigwam of peroxide hair spent Christmas with the Thatchers at Chequers. The Prince of Wales believed he was the ideal confidant for Sarah, Duchess of York. Everyone, but everyone, was fooled.
As I get older, I see that the human capacity for self-persuasion is almost infinite. We don’t have to believe something if we don’t want to, and we really don’t want to believe that fun-loving national treasures are abusing hospital patients.
Any inquiry into Savile’s wickedness will have to face the fact that there were people who knew and were afraid to speak. And there were people who knew, but didn’t want to know.
There still are. Beware the national treasure.
A toast to a TV show that truly rose to the occasion
As The Great British Bake Off ends, Tuesday nights are going to be flatter than that cake James dropped during the Showstopper Challenge. Crumbs! Talk about throwing in the sponge.
I had a soft spot for James. The Glasgow medical student has the hapless, pullovered charm of Woody Allen before he started marrying his own children. But a Union cake made up of five chiffon elements? Jimmy, hae ye taen leave o yar senses? You wondered if he had noticed that his part of the UK is trying to leave the union.
Sure enough, the Scotland cake made a bid for freedom, leaping out of James’s hands like a slippery Salmond. No amount of blueberries and icing sugar was going to disguise the fact that the Scotty sponge would not make nice with the other cakes. “It’s far too dry. It’s welding my mouth together,” said Paul Hollywood, expressing what most of us feel about the leader of the SNP.
So it was left to Brendan and John to go spatula to spatula. Much was made of the fact that this was the show’s first all-male final, but Brendan and John are both gay, so I reckon we girls can at least claim that they are in touch with their feminine side.
Both guys seemed to be baking to fill a void, and not with buttercream. You can’t imagine that Brendan’s estranged Irish relatives were thrilled when he came out. John’s hard-to-please mum implied that she hoped he would fall out in the early rounds “so he can revise for his exams”.
Brendan was the superior baker throughout, though, unlike his chiffon sponge, his parsonical self-congratulation can be hard to swallow. John is to batter what Felix Baumgartner is to gravity. This is the bloke who put salt in his rum babas and cut his hand when it seemed he was about to be eliminated.
The judges liked the handsome daredevil, when I suspect most of us would have said Brendan. It’s less manipulative than any other reality show, but even this most genuine of programmes needs drama. With John, you knew there would be tiers before bedtime.
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