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Lizzy Davies, Wednesday 17th October 2012 09:02
The computer hacker whose extradition to the US was blocked by the home secretary says he feels liberated by the decision after more than a decade of "living with a dark and hollow feeling".
Gary McKinnon, who has Asperger's syndrome and suffers from depression, is accused by US authorities of carrying out the "biggest military computer hack of all time", but was spared from extradition on human rights grounds in a dramatic statement to the Commons on Tuesday by Theresa May.
May said the decision, which sparked criticism from the US government but joy among McKinnon's supporters and extradition law campaigners, was based on medical evidence suggesting there was a "high risk" of him killing himself if sent to stand trial in the US. The 46-year-old admits having accessed US government computers but says he was doing so in order to look for evidence of UFOs.
Speaking in the aftermath of the decision, about which his mother informed him late on Tuesday morning shortly before May's statement, Glasgow-born McKinnon said he felt hopeful for the first time in a decade. "I have spent the past 10 years living with a dark and hollow feeling," he told the Daily Mail. "I have always thought that if things went against me, I would just have to end it all and take my own life. Now I just feel that I have been set free."
Referring to his long-term girlfriend, Lucy Clarke, who campaigned against his extradition alongside Janis Sharp, McKinnon's mother, he added: "I had no hopes for a future, no way of making plans, no thoughts of asking Lucy to share my life, no thoughts of whether I could ever have children or get work. It still does not feel real – but only now am I starting to feel as if a shutter has flipped up and lifted in my head."
After she explained why she had taken the unusual step of blocking the extradition, May said it would be up to the director of public prosecutions (DPP), Keir Starmer, to decide whether or not McKinnon should face charges in the UK. He would have faced up to 60 years in prison if convicted of charges in the US. His lawyer, Karen Todner, has said she hoped the DPP might take the view that Gary had already "suffered enough".
On Tuesday night, the US justice department issued a statement criticising the home secretary's move. "The United States is disappointed by the UK home secretary's decision not to extradite Gary McKinnon, particularly given the past decisions of the UK courts and prior home secretaries that he should face trial in the United States. We note that the home secretary has described this case as exceptional and, thus, this decision does not set a precedent for future cases. The home secretary has acknowledged that Mr McKinnon is accused of serious crimes and that the United Kingdom's director of public prosecutions will now consider whether Mr McKinnon has a case to answer in a UK court."
It added: "Our extradition relationship with the United Kingdom remains strong, as is demonstrated by the extradition of five alleged terrorists from the United Kingdom just last week."