LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday that he and President Joe Biden were “working together” on the case of Harry Dunn, the British teenager killed in August 2019 when his motorbike collided with a vehicle being driven on the wrong side of the road. American Anne Sacoolas, accused of killing Dunn, claimed diplomatic immunity and fled the country.
Sacoolas was working in the United Kingdom for a U.S. intelligence agency, as was her husband, her lawyer told a Virginia court earlier this year. Since the fatal incident, Dunn’s family has campaigned for her to be stripped of diplomatic immunity so she can return to the U.K. to face justice.
Sacoolas has been formally charged in Britain with causing death by dangerous driving — an offense that carries a penalty of up to 14 years in prison. She remains in the United States.
Speaking to the BBC Friday morning, Johnson said that Biden was “actively engaged” in the case of the 19-year-old, adding that the president had expressed sympathy and had his “own personal reasons for feeling very deeply about the issue.”
In 1972, Biden’s wife Neilia and their young daughter, Naomi, died in a truck crash that also injured his two sons. Dunn’s mother Charlotte said Friday that she hoped Biden’s “tragic loss” would help him to understand their quest for justice.
“This is not something that either government can control very easily because there are legal processes that are still going on,” Johnson said of the case, which thrust the issue of diplomatic immunity into the spotlight and placed mounting strain on the so-called special relationship between the two countries.
Johnson was speaking from the Group of Seven summit in Cornwall, England, where world leaders have gathered this week to discuss pressing issues including the global coronavirus recovery plan, climate change and Brexit.
Dunn family spokesman Radd Seiger said Friday that Harry’s parents welcomed the discussion between the two leaders.
“This rightly shows just how important this issue is and we are very grateful to the prime minister and his team for doing so,” he said, adding that the family members are dedicated to pursuing justice on behalf of their beloved son.
Sacoolas has acknowledged that she was driving her SUV on the wrong side of the road when the collision occurred on Aug. 27. The British drive on the left side of the road.
The Dunn case has long been a divisive and delicate one on both sides of the Atlantic, with former president Donald Trump accused of worsening the situation when he met Dunn’s family at The White House in October 2019 and surprised them with the news that Sacoolas was waiting nearby in the same building and wanted to meet with them.
At the time, Dunn’s parents refused the impromptu meeting, saying it would have been detrimental to the mental health of all involved and that if they were to meet it should be planned, on British soil and with mediators and therapists present.
“It took your breath away when he [Trump] mentioned it the first time,” Dunn’s father said, admitting they had felt pressured to meet with Sacoolas. They said Trump had expressed his condolences.
The Trump administration denied Britain’s request to extradite Sacoolas, a decision that the Biden administration confirmed was final earlier this year. The British government said it was disappointed and announced in July 2020 that the legal loophole that Sacoolas used to flee the country had been closed.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said last year that the British government “would have acted differently if this had been a U.K. diplomat serving in the U.S.”
During his presidency, Trump said driving on the wrong side of the road “happens” and called the incident an “accident.”
The British government was originally told Sacoolas was a “spouse with no official role,” but her lawyer told a Virginia court in February that she was employed by U.S. intelligence at the time of the incident. The family is seeking financial damages and launched a U.S. federal lawsuit last year.
Dunn’s family say they promised their son they would obtain justice and say they are unable to fully grieve until Sacoolas faces trial.
The U.S. government “is effectively saying it’s OK for American service personnel to come to the U.K., kill our children and get on the next plane home,” the Dunn family spokesman told The Washington Post last year.