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UFO Hacker Gary Mckinnon suicidal over health

Mark Ballard

Protracted extradition proceedings have turned UFO hacker Gary McKinnon into a nervous wreck who is on medication to quell his suicidal tendencies, his mother, Janis Sharp, told MPs yesterday.

In the light of Gary McKinnon's hearings, the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee has questioned whether the Human Rights Act is fit for purpose.

The Human Rights Act is so exacting that Gary McKinnon's risk of suicide might not be sufficient to engage its protections and prevent his extradition.

The threat of extradition was having a detrimental effect on McKinnon's mental health, said Janis Sharp, McKinnon's campaigning mother.

She told MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee: "It has ruined Gary's life... it has destroyed him. If the door goes, he jumps. If someone touches him, he jumps. He has incredible chest pains every morning."

McKinnon, who has Asperger's Syndrome, became suicidal last month after the High Court threw out his appeal against extradition on human rights grounds. He was put on medication. "He would rather be dead than be extradited, that's the reality," Sharp said.

Mark Lever, head of the National Autistic Society, told MPs that extradition, by taking an Aspergic far from familiar surroundings and family, could have a severe effect on their mental health.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson told the same committee that he was reviewing whether McKinnon's deteriorating health warranted the government's intervention in his extradition on the grounds that it breached his human rights.

The High Court threw out McKinnon's last legal challenge to extradition on the same grounds, because the threshold of pain after which the Human Rights Act (HRA) is engaged was so high that, even were someone extradited in full knowledge that it would lead to their likely death, it could not intervene unless someone faced a prosecuting authority that actually intended to treat them inhumanely.

Home Affairs Select Committee chairman Keith Vaz MP told Computer Weekly after the meeting that it must be asked whether the HRA threshold was set too high.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson reminded the committee how the US had assured McKinnon's Aspergic vulnerabilities would be accommodated in trial and prison.

This had been enough to persuade the High Court that the HRA threshold had not been reached. Moreover, the court had repeated claims that evidence of the tragic effect of removal and incarceration on Aspergics was too patchy to count.

The National Autistic Society's Mark Lever told the committee that researchers were examining the matter.

Anecdotal evidence suggested a disproportionate number of those in prison had Asperger's Syndrome. Some academics assert that the entire criminal justice system, from arrest to incarceration, is unfair to autistics.

These wider matters were not put to or raised by the Home Secretary. He was asked to explain why he had not intervened in McKinnon's case. He said the 2003 Extradition Act had been designed to prevent Home Secretaries exercising their political or personal discretion.

"I don't think these decisions should be made on whether someone has a popular newspaper in favour of them or whether famous pop stars are making records about them," he said. "This is about justice, not about popular causes."

For the same reason, Johnson has refused to meet with McKinnon's mother. Johnson has also refused to make representations to the US government for clemency in McKinnon's case, which his supporters believe is a trifling matter that has dragged on too long to the tragic detriment of a vulnerable man.

For the same reason, Johnson told the committee, he agreed with the decision of the High Court, the Director of Public Prosecutions and US Department of Justice, on the matter of whether McKinnon could be tried in the UK.

Their preference for a US trial on the basis of cost precluded any consideration of McKinnon's human rights, the High Court heard in the summer.

Only justice could intervene, Johnson asserted. He gave no indication that the law as it stands might be failing McKinnon and other people with Asperger's syndrome, whose condition was yet poorly understood.

Gary McKinnon - an interactive timeline:

Gary McKinnon, Chrissie Hynde and Janis Sharp talk to ITN:

Read more about Gary McKinnon:

Gary McKinnon broke into 73,000 US government computers, Lords told >>

US allegations against UFO hacker Gary McKinnon were 'over baked' >>

Gary McKinnon: UK IT pros believe he should stay in the UK >>

Gary McKinnon loses case to avoid extradition, could face 60 years in jail >>

Hacker Gary McKinnon gets stay of execution >>


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