The husband of the American woman granted diplomatic immunity following a fatal car crash was not registered as a diplomat, a lawyer acting for the family of the teenager who died has said.
Mark Stephens said Jonathan Sacoolas, the husband of Anne Sacoolas, was not on the official diplomatic list, meaning he and his dependants may not be allowed the same level of protection from prosecution by claiming diplomatic immunity.
Stephens said the Foreign Office had confirmed this to him. The FCO was not immediately able to comment.
Stephens said Jonathan Sacoolas was not on the London diplomatic list, and as a result the level of immunity his wife could claim was far more limited.
The US has already transferred the entire family back to the US after her alleged role in the death of 19-year-old Harry Dunn in a fatal crash.
Dunn died after his motorcycle collided with a Volvo XC90, allegedly driven by Anne Sacoolas, near RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire on 27 August. It is alleged the Volvo driver drove 400 yards down the wrong side of the road after pulling out of the airbase.
The decision to transfer the family back to the US has prompted public outrage and a commitment by Boris Johnson to urge Donald Trump to lift diplomatic immunity so Anne Sacoolas can return to face justice in the UK.
US staff, including civilian staff and their dependents, at designated military bases in the UK, including RAF Croughton, are protected under the Visiting Forces Act 1952, reinforced by further legislation in 1964. They are able to claim some legal immunity in the UK.
Broadly, UK courts do not have primary jurisdiction where the offence “arose out of and in the course of the service personnel’s duties as a member of the visiting force”. At issue is the definition of the phrase “course of duty”.
The US air force as a matter of principle maintains that its service personnel remain on duty while travelling between their base station and home address. This might cover Anne Sacoolas’s intended destination.
If this was the case, the US would produce a section 11 legal certificate stating an individual had immunity from prosecution in UK courts.
However, CPS guidance on the issue of service personnel on UK roads states: “Such cases should be looked at carefully to see if this is sustainable. In appropriate cases where evidence to rebut this status is available (eg a long break in the journey/significant diversion from most direct route) consideration should be given to challenging a section 11 certificate issued by the service authority.”
The visiting force then has to produce a certificate setting out why the individual was carrying out professional duties. Normally a waiver is issued, but on the condition of a commitment that the individual will be tried in their own national court.
The lawyer’s claim came as the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, urged the US government to reconsider its decision to grant diplomatic immunity to Anne Sacoolas.
The FCO said Raab had reiterated his disappointment at the sudden return to the US of Sacoolas and her family, and urged the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, to reconsider his decision.
Pompeo, in a tweet about the phone call, made no mention of the exchange, but in a longer official statement said the two men had discussed the death of Harry Dunn.
The call also covered the US decision to allow Turkey to send troops into northern Syria, a future trade deal, the Iran nuclear deal and the democracy protests in Hong Kong, suggesting the immunity case would have fought for space in a crowded agenda.
Raab has also already made his displeasure known about the Sacoolas case to the US ambassador to the UK, Woody Johnson.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday, Charlotte Charles, Harry Dunn’s mother, again appealed for Sacoolas to return to the UK, adding it was not right for diplomatic immunity to be used in such cases.
She said she had received thousands of messages of support, mainly from the UK and the US, over the past 24 hours, saying “they were devastated for us and and disgusted this woman has been allowed to leave the UK”.
She added that “with Boris now clearly – bless him – on our side and saying yesterday he feels that it is not right, I am very much hoping over the next couple of days things will improve for us and we will get some justice done”.
The US Department of State’s own guidelines for law enforcement officials make it clear that the US does not believe diplomatic immunity extends to foreign diplomats committing serious or repeat driving offences in the US, either under the influence of alcohol or sober.
The handbook states: “Drivers who demonstrate a pattern of bad driving habits or who commit an egregious offense such as Driving While Under the Influence are subject to having their licenses suspended or revoked as appropriate.”
It adds that US state department policy is to assign “points” for driving infractions and to suspend the licence of foreign mission personnel who “abuse the privilege of driving in the United States by repeatedly committing traffic violations and demonstrating unsafe driving practices”.
While calling for diplomats to be treated with respect, the handbook states: “Foreign diplomats who violate traffic laws should be cited. Allegations of serious crimes should be fully investigated, promptly reported to the the US Department of State, and procedurally developed to the maximum permissible extent.”