Opinion: Why Nick Clegg is probably right not to meet Gary McKinnon’s mother

A quick search on my own blog for “Gary McKinnon” will show that I have written several times, at some length, on the reasons why I believe that he should not be extradited to the US. I believe that to do so to such a vulnerable person would be a disproportionate action which would seriously and adversely affect his health. For an Asperger’s sufferer, change can be really difficult to deal with. The National Autistic Society website states that routine and familiarity are key elements in living with their condition.

In my view, it would violate the principles of justice and human rights that we hold dear, and also the US Constitution which outlaws cruel and unusual punishment. Not, of course that the latter doesn’t happen in the US, otherwise people like Troy Davis wouldn’t have been held on death row, and been within hours of execution on more than one occasion when it’s clear that their convictions aren’t safe.

I stand by everything I’ve written so far and I continue to support the Free Gary campaign. My avatar on Twitter carries its logo. I have enormous respect for Gary’s tenacious and determined mother, Janis Sharp, who has fought a spirited, imaginative and skilful campaign, keeping the public aware of her son’s plight and eloquently arguing his case. As a mother I hope that I would be able to fight as well for my daughter if she needed me to.

Gary’s case has been championed by many Liberal Democrats, MPs and party members, across the country. Nick Clegg and Alistair Carmichael, both now Government ministers, have stood side by side with Janis, and I’m glad that they did. It was the right thing to do. I can’t read their minds, but I can’t imagine for a moment that their views will have changed.

The Daily Mail reports today that Nick Clegg has written to Janis Sharp saying that he has been advised, for legal reasons, not to meet her at this time, as she had requested. Their headline is a vaguely hysterical “…Clegg washes his hands of Gary McKinnon”. I think it’s fair to say that that paper is not exactly in Nick’s fan club. They certainly don’t need much of an excuse to slag him off.

I haven’t seen Nick’s letter to Janis in full, but you would expect the Mail to print what it saw as the most incriminating part of it. The bit in the article says simply:

As you know the Home Secretary is charged as a matter of law with deciding in the end whether proceeding with extradition would breach Gary’s human rights. As there are live legal proceedings, I have been advised that it would be better all round for you and me not to meet and discuss the details of the case at present.

To me, this is saying “I can’t meet you at the moment because I don’t want to compromise or politicise the court case.” It’s not “take a running jump and never darken my doorstep again.”

Let’s imagine if Nick had decided not to go with the advice that he’d been given and decided to meet with Janis Sharp. Could that have compromised the case? Could it have made things worse for Gary? Is it right that the Deputy Prime Minister in his official capacity should be perceived to take a public view about an ongoing Court case? I certainly can’t imagine that the Daily Mail would have considered it a wise move. The Executive and Judiciary are separate for a reason. The last thing you want is Government ministers exploiting the legal system to persecute their enemies or helping their friends to flee justice and to avoid that, the rules are quite tight.

The Ministerial Code states in bold, right at the start that “Ministers are expected to behave in a way that upholds the highest standards of propriety.” Ignoring advice to keep out of a legal case would not be doing that in my view.

I’m not sure how Gary’s case will reach its final conclusion and I will do whatever I can as an individual to fight for him to stay in this country, but, a little reluctantly, I have to agree with Nick that at this moment, it’s not wise or appropriate for him to meet Janis. The reality is that the judicial and governmental processes have their constraints. Reluctantly because I don’t want Janis or Gary to feel that this is some sort of personal snub and I don’t want their pain to be added to. I can see, though, that Nick meeting with Janis right now could ultimately do more harm for Gary than good.

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  • Depressed Ex 26th Feb '11 - 3:13pm

    I must have missed Nick Clegg’s appointment as Home Secretary.

  • Nick Clegg’s behaviour is absolutely correct. The Daily Mail’s report is totally reprehensible.

    The Home Secretary has a role to play in relation to extraditions. The Prime Minister could possibly have a role in relation to bilateral relations with the US.

    What would clearly be incorrect would for a third Cabinet Minister (Nick Clegg) to intervene in a matter which is manifestly not within his remit.

    The really sad thing here is that Gary’s mother, Mrs Sharp has allowed herself to be manipulated by Daily Mail journalists for their own political ends.

  • Adam Gillett 26th Feb '11 - 3:36pm

    Simon – Far more brilliant and cunning people than Gary McKinnon’s mother have been turned into pawns by the Mail. Always have been, always will. It’s hard to blame her. The Mail is a temptingly large place to get coverage, but it’s like seconds of dessert – tempting, but you’ll feel ill once you’ve taken it.

    As to the story itself – cheap shot with no rational basis. Not much more to be said.

  • Adam, having read part of what the Daily Mail says, I have to say I have lost a lot of sympathy with her.

    Last night, Mrs Sharp told the Mail: ‘I wanted to raise my concerns with Mr Clegg, as is right and proper and by no means unreasonable in the horrific circumstances to which Gary and I are being subjected.

    ‘I’m now afraid that he might be attempting to wash his hands of Gary and perhaps sees Gary only as a thorn in his side. I so hope this isn’t true as I trusted Nick Clegg to the core – I really believed in him.

    ‘The Lib Dems used my son’s case pre-election and as far as I am concerned it was a 100 per cent commitment to him. How can we have any trust in politicians when they behave like this?’

    The revelation is likely to infuriate Lib Dem MPs, who themselves strongly supported the campaign for Gary to be tried in Britain, where all his crimes, which he admits, were committed.

    I love that bit about “is likely to infuriate Lib Dem MPs”. Why, exactly?

  • Caron, are you suggesting the Daily Mail made up the comments attributed to her?

    Perfectly possible, I suppose.

  • daft ha'p'orth 26th Feb '11 - 5:00pm

    Well, the advice in question is unattributed. The fact that he has been ‘advised’ to do something tells you only that someone has suggested it. It gives you precisely no information about the provenance of said suggestion. You are presuming that the advice comes from an appropriate, credible and thoughtful source – a source sympathetic to McKinnon’s plight – probably because you are assuming that Clegg is acting in good faith and with McKinnon’s best interests in mind. Mrs Sharp, and presumably most of the Daily Fail readers, assume that the advice was given with the best interests of Clegg and the Cleggites in mind. Although it sounds official, it’s risky to presume that the term ‘advised’ or ‘advice’ legitimises the advice given.

    I’ve never really understood the fuss about McKinnon’s Aspergers. I work in IT and about a third of the senior staff are diagnosed on the autistic spectrum, most comp sci people being extremely strange to say the least, so I have no particular viewpoint on Clegg’s involvement or otherwise. This ‘cyber-hacking’ $800,000 log deletion stuff is concerning for other reasons – much like Jammie Thomas’ $1.5 million fine for filesharing 24 songs, it suggests that many involved are alarmist sensationalist Clancy-reading luddites, incapable of proportionate response. Even Howard Schmidt realises this.

    Even so, given the limited information available from which to interpret Clegg’s motivations, I’d probably make the same assumption as Mrs Sharp. Why? Because of the Reverend Thomas Bayes. Build a naive Bayes filter and train it on a feature set including Clegg’s current status (in government, out of government, in coalition, pre-election, etc.) and Clegg’s widely publicised recent actions. Result: while (in government, in coalition, post-election), probability (Clegg, upholding prior commitment) = significantly lower than while(out of government, pre-election). Or, in plain English, recent precedent suggests that Nick is not to be trusted. Therefore, people tend not to take his word for it.

  • In spite of the National Autistic Society twice writing to the Home Office, The Home Office still wants Gary McKinnon assesed by an expert with no expertise in Aspergers/Autism. Janis merely wanted Nick’s help to ensure only fairness in the choice of expert, one who at least is properly qualified and with the appropriate ASD experience and not one as the Home Office are insisting on without the requisite experience. This Nick Clegg could and should have done. Fairness and even handedness is not a lot to ask for. After all Nick Clegg, Chris Huhne and David Cameron for that matter berated the previous government for their position on this matter. Cameron said : “It should still mean something to be a British citizen – with the full protection of the British Parliament, rather than a British Government trying to send you off to a foreign court”
    Nick Clegg said : “Gordon Brown must give his personal guarantee that Gary McKinnon will be tried in Britain… Leaving him to rot on the other side of the Atlantic is nothing short of cruel.”

  • daft ha’p’orth
    “Well, the advice in question is unattributed.”

    A complete red herring, surely?

    It is manifestly the case that a Cabinet Minister shouldn’t interfere in a matter where a fellow Cabinet Minister (in this case the Home Secretary) has a quasi-judicial role. It is so obvious it really doesn’t need stating.

    Perfectly correct for a mere MP (as many are now, and as Nick was then) to lobby hard on behalf of Gary McKinnon.

    Cabinet Minsiters have to behave differently, as Vince found out the hard way in relation to the BSkyB takeover and Murdoch.

  • daft ha'p'orth 26th Feb '11 - 6:18pm

    @Simon Shaw

    Nothing should be expected to be ‘manifestly the case’, or ‘so obvious it really doesn’t need stating’. It may be blatantly obvious to you that this should be the case, but that you see it this way does not mean that world + dog intuitively leaps to your viewpoint (apparently Sharp doesn’t, for one). You probably know more about politics than them, so you probably have good reasons for that conclusion, but your average basic vulnerable, confused human being appreciates it if politicians take a few minutes to show their reasoning, especially when they appear to be telling you to take a hike. Horribly unreasonable of them.

    If, as you state, there is an intuitively obvious and easily grasped reason why further discussion between Clegg and Sharp would be inappropriate (and I’m sure there are several), then the appropriate thing for a politician to do is to identify an excuse likely to be satisfactory to the recipient, and express it in an intuitively comprehensible and easily grasped manner. However, politicians tend not to bother doing this, which sometimes, as in this case, would be a daft PR move. Until someone other than the Mail publishes on the topic it is barely worth thinking about, but if the letter extract did happen to be accurate, it’s not a particularly great example of compassionate politics, and at best it is playing into the hands of the trolls.

  • Oh surely Nick Clegg was only doing what all good Lib Dems do in opposition- demanding that ‘something should be done’ . In government things tend to be a bit more complicated.

  • I thought there was still a quasi-judicial decision to be made about Sky, but it doesn’t seem to prevent the Prime Minister from meeting senior executives of News International. Obviously their advice varies from case to case!

  • daft ha’p’orth
    “Nothing should be expected to be ‘manifestly the case’, or ‘so obvious it really doesn’t need stating’. It may be blatantly obvious to you that this should be the case, but that you see it this way does not mean that world + dog intuitively leaps to your viewpoint”

    Sorry, are you saying that you believe it would be perfectly proper for Nick Clegg (as a Cabinet Minister) to intervene? If so, why?

    If not, is it just that you like being awkward?

  • I think what annoys me is the fact that Brown took a load of crap from all sides for not intervening, including from Clegg, and now they behave in the same way. Perhaps Nick will think before opening his mouth.

    Simon Shaw, I hope you were defending Brown in the same way when McKinnon was making headlines last year and your party was calling on him to intervene?

    Also, the Coalition is in Government now – why are they keeping this unbalanced extradition law – are there plans to repeal it?

    The comment from Nigel on Cameron is also just – another case of poor judgement from him

  • It is not about Aspergers…The Aspergers diagnosis is unequivocal according to the High Court Judge. It is about 10years of mental torture…Tthere is a long medical history here. Check out this story:

    Do you have any idea what it must be like? While pursuing an aspie obssession (UFOs) Gary McKinnon commited a trivial, non extraditable offence which carried a six month sentence in the UK. Because the US invented enough damage to make it extraditable, he now faces SIXTY years for his UFO quest. If that wasn’t enough, McKinnon has a pathological terror of travel, to be dragged off thousands of miles from his family and support and be locked up for months or years before he even has a trial is abject terror to him magnified exponentially because he has Aspergers! So much so that he believes it far more preferable to die. for gods sake!
    What is in question is: whether or not doing all that to him is against his human rights??? ….doh!
    Talk about Cruel and Unusual Punishment……
    This is so tragic and so seriously important and Nick clegg et al made so many serious promises He owes it to Janis Sharp and to Gary McKinnon and to every British Citizen to at the very least hear what she had to say if not stand up for justice. moral compass etc.
    Despite a 10 year sentence of mental torture all Gary Mckinnon is asking for is to be tried in the UK!
    For a country who does not extradite any of its own nationals

  • @bazsc
    I have never knowingly defended Gordon Brown in my life -at least not in his role as Prime Minister.

    May I refer you to my first contribution, above:
    The Home Secretary has a role to play in relation to extraditions. The Prime Minister could possibly have a role in relation to bilateral relations with the US.

    As Nick Clegg is neither of these, I trust you join in defending him against these particular attacks.

  • @Andrew Hickey If you have, as you say, Aspergers then you will not be able to empathise with how McKinnon feels. A neurotypical who doesnt like to travel and is forced to is a whole different magnitude to how it would be for an Aspie being dragged off in chains to America and if you can’t see that ….well you’ve got Aspergers.
    Are you ignoring the other mental health issues he has just because it was printed in the Sunday Express??
    No one said Aspergers is an excuse but it is a mitigating factor.
    Gary McKinnon is to be assessed for suicide risk.
    He is not asking to get out of Jail Free he is asking to tried in the UK where all his family and support is and from where he has never even set foot.

  • @Cameron
    If you have, as you say, Aspergers then you will not be able to empathise with how McKinnon feels

    This is an outrageous statement, patently untrue (even without the years of experience I’ve had with ‘Aspies’, a quick Google search reveals the first 27 results for ‘Asperger’s’ and ’empathy’ all say that people with Asperger’s are likely to be more empathetic than others. My own experience bears this out. Andrew quite rightly points out that there are people who lack empathy, and they are called sociopaths (which too is a loaded and often misapplied term; they’re hardly all crazed killers, nor is every crazed killer a sociopath by any means).

    1% of the UK population have some form of autism spectrum disorder, and that’s a lot of people to be tarring with the brush you’re using here, to tell someone, knowing nothing else about them, something like that they can definitely not empathise with someone else, is not only the kind of shockingly illiberal action that would not be tolerated if directed towards any religious group, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, ability level, or any other classification of people you could care to name. It shouldn’t be tolerated when directed at people on the autism spectrum either.

  • Clegg is right not to meet her if he has been so advised. I note Simon Shaw saying Cameron could also play a role, but I believe this is also wrong. It would be incorrect for any minister other than the Home Secretary to comment pre decision as this could then be challenged as interference by either side. The decision is the Home Secretary’s alone and as one minister ignoring the rules on this type of issue has already cost the country £300,000 everyone else should stay out of it. Cameron may make representations to the US as in fact could Hague. But neither should do so until the judicial stage is over.

    The hypocrisy is that Clegg attacked Brown personally over his lack of involvement and perhaps now understands why. If so he should come out and say so, or he should accept Cameron can be equally criticised.

    The real crunch will come if the extradition goes ahead. At that point he will have to condem it or be shown to be an opportunist in highlighting the case previously. Either way there will be problems for the coalition as a large number of Tories also comented on the case whilst in opposition.

    He may not be commenting but I would bet he is hoping the decision is not to extradite.

  • Well articulated Steve

    It also begs the question what Cameron was doing having private meetings with members of senior management at NI when under quasi-judicial view by a member of his Government.

  • Gary McKinnon has suffered 10 years of mental torture he faces sixty years in an American high security prison locked in with Psychopaths and sociopaths ( the dangerous ones) his mental health is deteriorating day by day he fully believes suicide is his best option. Nick Clegg might try some empathising.

  • I’d actually forgotten quite how forcibly Clegg has attacked the previous Government over this issue.
    Just to remind everyone of some of Cleggs words in a Daily Mail article in 2009. Either he was wrong and opportunistic then, or his partner in the coalition is as bad as Brown on the issue now.


    “If he boards the plane to the U.S., it is almost certain he will never set foot on British soil again, doomed to pass out the rest of his days in shackles on a foreign shore.”

    “This is nothing short of a disgrace – and yet there is still one tiny glimmer of hope. Even now the courts have spoken their last, the Prime Minister and Attoroney General could step in. ”

    “It appals me that, so far at least, no one in government seems prepared to lift a finger to help him.”

    “It would be fair and it would be right to try Mr McKinnon in Britain. But the clock is ticking. The Prime Minister just needs to pick up the phone to make this prosecution happen. I urge him to do so, before it is too late.”

  • daft ha'p'orth 27th Feb '11 - 1:53am

    @Simon Shaw
    “Sorry, are you saying that you believe it would be perfectly proper for Nick Clegg (as a Cabinet Minister) to intervene? If so, why?”

    Hint: if you want to know what I’m saying, consider a functional approach to textual analysis – read my comment.

    For your viewing convenience, here is a summary. As regards my personal belief: I stated that: “I’m sure that [as you state] [there are several] intuitively obvious and easily grasped reason[s] why further discussion between Clegg and Sharp would be inappropriate“.
    I also stated that “[in this case], the appropriate thing for a politician to do is to identify an excuse likely to be satisfactory to the recipient, and express it in an intuitively comprehensible and easily grasped manner.”
    Additionally, I suggested that whilst “you probably know more about politics than [most people]” and therefore things that are, to you, “so obvious it really doesn’t need stating” may nonetheless not be intuitively obvious to others, and that “politicians [should] take a few minutes to show their reasoning“.

    GCSE students are expected to provide sufficient reasoning to explain their responses to the marker. So is the Deputy PM. This particular communication, in the unlikely case that the Mail has actually got its facts right, would get approximately a D grade.

    You asked: “is it just that you like being awkward?”
    Right back atcha, sunshine.

  • @ Nigel. Quite!

  • Depressed Ex 27th Feb '11 - 11:33am

    I’d actually forgotten quite how forcibly Clegg has attacked the previous Government over this issue.

    That is the point, of course. Typical Clegg behaviour.

    When in opposition – looking for votes – populist bandwagon-jumping, photo-opportunities with the family and self-righteous condemnation of politicians for failing to bypass due process.

    When in government – not in need of votes any more – of course it’s impossible for him even to see the family because of legal advice.

  • Is it for legal reasons? It doesn’t actually say that if you read the article closely. The phrase is “better all round” (implying other reasons) with a reference to live legal proceedings. It’s not quite the same thing.

    This isn’t Nick’s decision to take (so there is no comparision with Vince’s situation). And by having a meeting with Mrs Sharp he isn’t bringing any influence onto the Home Secretary. If Nick had a meeting with Mrs Sharp but either didn’t discuss the matter with the Home Sec – or did so in a totally open manner (eg by published letter) I don’t see how any improper influence is being brought.

    If there is legal advice it may be over cautious legal advice, but as councillors will often testify advice is just that. How robustly has Nick been willing to challenge the advice he’s getting?

    (QV – every episode of Yes Minister ever made 🙂

  • @daft ha’p’orth
    “Sorry, are you saying that you believe it would be perfectly proper for Nick Clegg (as a Cabinet Minister) to intervene? If so, why?”

    Couldn’t understand your (highly verbose) answer.

    Yes or No for the first question would be ideal.

  • As Caron says, saying: “I been advised not to meet you at the moment, for legal reasons” does NOT mean: “I’m washing my hands of you.”
    I’m not sure how meeting Gary’s mother could compromise the case, but if it did, she’d hardly be grateful after.
    If there is a risk, it would be foolish to take it for the sake of… what? A nice photo op?

    >@Andrew Hickey If you have, as you say, Aspergers then you will not be able to empathise with how McKinnon feels.

    A few of the comments here about AS are are best patronising and at worst ill-informed and downright insulting.

    Having whatever degree of AS may be of relevance to a jury, who might mistake literal answers for flippancy, say.

    Beyond that, I don’t see that it’s that relevant to anything. The case stands or falls on whether a badly rushed agreement with the US on terrorism should be used to extradite someone retrospectively on charges that have no relation to terrorism to a country where people have openly bayed for blood and demanded absurdly harsh penalties – ie prejudicing any trial before it takes place.

  • @Simon Shaw
    I think the simple answer to the question you pose is no. People asking for intervention now are simply scoring points or do not understand the process. However, looking back on the previous input of Clegg and others (a search on this site is illuminating as is a search of prior press articles and interviews) they are now suffering for scoring the same points whilst in opposition.

    Clegg is right now and was wrong before, he cannot have it both ways.

  • Steve Way
    “Clegg is right now and was wrong before, he cannot have it both ways.”I think you are wrong, Steve.

    I consider it perfectly proper for MPs who are not Ministers (as Nick wasn’t) to lobby for Gary McKinnon not to be extradited.

    Ministers, especially Cabinet Ministers, are correctly inhibited in the way they can behave.

    Under your logic it would be wrong for any current Labour MPs to lobby on this case. I disagree.

  • Simon Shaw

    I assume you are misunderstanding what Steve Way said deliberately. Clegg argued when he was in opposition that ministers (not himself) should intervene. Now he is a minister he is arguing that they shouldn’t (or can’t).

    As Steve Way says, either he was wrong then or he is worng now. Which is it?

  • @Simon Shaw

    Seriously the likes of you and Mark Pack have a lot to say about the ‘noddy’ stuff but nothing about the stuff that really matters?

    I dare you both to post on issues that really matter,


    In fact I double dare you,

  • @Simon Shaw
    So to understand you correctly, Clegg was perfectly correct to demand actions of Ministers that would be wrong of them to take. A good tribal defence I give you, but one that defies logic.

    I think it is your logic that is flawed. He cannot have it both ways. I suggest you re read the article Clegg wrote for the Mail, probably at a time he never expected to be a Minister. Either he should act in the way he challenged Labour Ministers to act then, or accept he was wrong to demand it.

    You are quite right to say “Ministers, especially Cabinet Ministers, are correctly inhibited in the way they can behave”. The logical extention of this is that responsible opposition MP’s should not demand that they do so. If Labour MP’s were to do so now I would be equally critical of them.

  • @Alec Macph
    “Why should they apologize for summat they didn’t do?”
    I think the apology being asked for is for the hypocrisy of demanding Labour took immediate action they are unwilling to take themselves.

  • I don’t know why anyone is surprised by Clegg’s actions. I doubt even the Gurkhas would get a meeting with him now.

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