MPs attack Johnson over McKinnon extradition

By Alex Stevenson

Home secretary Alan Johnson rejected claims that Britain’s extradition reputation was “going to hell in a hand cart”, as he was grilled by MPs over the potential extradition of computer hacker Gary McKinnon.

Mr Johnson restated his claims he was utterly powerless to stop the extradition of Mr McKinnon, a UFO enthusiast and computer hacker, who is facing a court case in the US for hacking into Pentagon computers.

His mother, Janis Sharp, who was giving evidence to the home affairs committee prior to Mr Johnson, managed to shake the home secretary’s hand but minders then intervened to prevent any further interaction.

Conservative committee member David T. C. Davies lamented the decline in Britain’s ability to exert control over its extradition situation.

“Your point seems to be we’re going to hell in a hand cart,” he told Mr Davies.

“That’s exactly my point,” Mr Davies replied.

Mr Johnson responded: “This is a ludicrous accusation.”

He was forced on to the defensive throughout the brief session as MPs questioned his handling of the McKinnon case.

The home secretary had previously stated: “If I were to oppose his extradition I would be breaking the law,” Mr Johnson wrote in the Times earlier this year.

That position remained the same during a recent Commons debate on the subject.

But eyebrows were raised when Mr Johnson then offered Mr McKinnon an 11th-hour reprieve, saying he would examine new medical evidence “very carefully” before giving the extradition the go ahead.

The decision gave Mr McKinnon’s lawyers time to consider medical reports on his Asperger’s syndrome and make legal representations.

He has “stopped the clock” on a 14-day period granted to consider whether an appeal to the European court of human rights should be made by Mr McKinnon’s lawyers.

All other legal grounds opposing the extradition in British courts have been dealt with, but Mr Johnson could still block the move on the grounds the extradition could contravene article three of the Human Rights Act. This states that prisoners should not suffer “inhuman or degrading treatment”.

Labour MP David Winnick raised the issue of whether Britain’s extradition treaty with the UK is “lopsided”.

Mr Johnson argued it was biased in favour of Britain, claiming that the need for the US to prove ‘reasonable suspicion’ and the British requirement to prove ‘probable cause’ are “as close a definition as you can get”.

“If there’s an imbalance, it’s probably the Americans who have particular cause for complaint,” he added.

Mr Johnson said he found arguments against Mr McKinnon’s extradition “amazing” and stressed to the committee that extradition did not equate to a guilty sentence.

Mr Winnick said: “If it had been an alleged murderer or a notorious drug baron, it could be understandable. But in this case, it seems very odd.”