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Parents Of Man Killed In U.K. Crash Lose Their Challenge To U.S. Diplomatic Immunity

The parents of Harry Dunn have lost their case before the U.K.'s high court, which ruled that the U.S. driver who police say fatally struck their son did have diplomatic immunity.

Dunn, 19, was riding his motorbike last August when he was hit by a car being driven on the wrong side of the road by Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a U.S. diplomat, as she left a nearby air force base used by the U.S. military.

Sacoolas left the U.K. a couple weeks later, after telling local police she had no plans to leave the country. The U.S. has held that as the wife of a diplomat, she enjoyed full diplomatic immunity at the time of the crash. Through her attorney, Sacoolas has admitted to having been driving on the wrong side of the road when she collided with Dunn.

She was charged with causing death by dangerous driving. The U.K. requested her extradition so she could face prosecution in the case, but the U.S. rejected the request.

Dunn's family argued that the U.K. government had wrongly decided Sacoolas had diplomatic immunity, and accused British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab of bowing to the U.S. government. They also said the U.K. Foreign Office misled local police and left them out of discussions about Sacoolas' status, The Guardian reported.

In their judgement on Tuesday, the judges wrote: "Our conclusion is that Mrs Sacoolas enjoyed immunity from UK criminal jurisdiction at the time of Harry's death. We do not come to this conclusion with any enthusiasm for the result, but it is compelled by the operation of the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations," according to the newspaper.

In July, the U.K. and U.S. revised their rules on diplomatic immunity at the Croughton Royal Air Force station annex for U.S. personnel and their families, as NPR's Matthew Schwartz reported: "Since 1995, diplomatic immunity hasn't applied to U.S. staff there outside of the course of their official duties. Now, that arrangement has been expanded to waive immunity for their family members as well."

The new arrangement ends "the anomaly in the previous arrangements" and allows for criminal prosecution of family members "should these tragic circumstances every arise again," Raab said in a statement at the time.

A spokesman for Harry Dunn's family said they will appeal the ruling. Dunn's mother, Charlotte Charles, called the court's decision "disappointing."

"The Government and Mrs. Sacoolas need to understand that this court ruling is just a blip along the way," she told outlets including The Telegraph.

"I promised my boy I would get him justice and that is just what we are going to do. No one is going to stand in our way."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.