An American woman who left the UK after killing a teenager in a road accident was given an eight-month suspended prison sentence on Thursday, though she declined to come to Britain for the court hearing.
Anne Sacoolas, 45, was sentenced over an August 2019 accident in which 19-year-old Harry Dunn was killed when his motorcycle collided with a car outside RAF Croughton, an air base in eastern England that is used by US forces. Sacoolas was driving on the wrong side of the road at the time.
Sacoolas and her husband, an American intelligence officer, returned to the US days after the accident. The US government invoked diplomatic immunity on her behalf, prompting an outcry in Britain and causing tensions between the governments in London and Washington.
Sacoolas admitted causing death by careless driving, which carries a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment. Justice Bobbie Cheema-Grubb said Sacoolas’ actions were “not far short of deliberately dangerous driving," but she reduced the penalty because of Sacoolas’ guilty plea and previous good character.
The suspended sentence means that Sacoolas faces jail if she commits another offense within a year – though the judge acknowledged the sentence could not be enforced if she remains in the US.
The sentencing follows a three-year campaign by Dunn’s family, who met with politicians on both sides of the Atlantic in a campaign to get Sacoolas to face British justice. American authorities refused to extradite her.
Sacoolas entered a guilty plea in October, but the US administration advised her not to come to Britain for sentencing. She attended the hearing at London’s Central Criminal Court by video link.
Lawyer Ben Cooper said Sacoolas had not asked for the diplomatic immunity asserted on her behalf by the US government. He read a statement from Sacoolas in which she said she was “deeply sorry for the pain I have caused.”
“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about Harry,” the statement said.
The judge said the “calm and dignified persistence” of Dunn’s parents had led Sacoolas to acknowledge guilt and appear before the court.
Dunn’s mother Charlotte Charles said in a victim impact statement that her son’s death “haunts me every minute of every day and I’m not sure how I’m ever going to get over it.”
“As a family we are determined that his death will not have been in vain and we are involved in a number of projects to try to find some silver lining in this tragedy and to help others,” she said. “That will be Harry’s legacy.” (AP)