Mum of Crouch End UFO hacker Gary McKinnon tells of ‘marathon’ ordeal
The mother of computer hacker Gary McKinnon has told the Broadway she is “ecstatic” after winning a 10-year battle to prevent the Asperger’s sufferer being extradited to America for trial in a landmark case.
Janis Sharp, 63, yesterday won the backing of Home Secretary Theresa May, who told the House of Commons she would block America’s demands to send Gary for trial as it would “breach his human rights”.
Gary, a former pupil of Muswell Hill Primary School and Highgate Wood School, admits hacking nearly 100 Pentagon and NASA computers in 2001 and 2002 while looking for evidence of UFOs, from a computer in his then-girlfriend’s Crouch End flat. He faced up to 60 years in jail if convicted in the US.
But he could never have guessed the battle to stop his extradition would plunge him into depression and cost him, his mother and their legal team more than a decade of their lives.
Janis, who called the legal fight “the longest marathon ever”, told the Broadway the family had “laid low” after the initial furore, but the nightmare really began in July 2005, when American authorities took advantage of a new extradition agreement that required no evidence to back up extradition requests.
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She said: “It had taken us a long time to come to that feeling, beginning to relax. Then the worry of Gary taking his own life was massive, but also the worry that, because his grandmother had schizophrenia and his great grandmother spent 50 years in a mental insitution, that he would have irrecoverable mental health as a result.”
She added: “My way is to keep fighting and Gary’s is to go into himself and withdraw from the world completely. It’s hard but he is my son and I know if he went [to America] I wouldn’t see him again.”
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Janis broke the news to Gary herself, she said. “He cried, he couldn’t speak. He said, ‘Is it real? Is it real?’ He found it difficult to believe. And today’s the first day he has woken up without a massive pain in his chest. He felt he had this weight on his chest, and for the first time today, it’s gone.”
She said the battle “has taken an emotional toll” on Gary, but she was relieved he would have the family’s support in any possible prosecution in Britain.
Janis also thanked the Broadway for its part in highlighting Gary’s plight several years ago on its front page. “Absolutely the Ham & High helped,” she said. “Even people walking their dogs on Hampstead Heath got to know, and they all supported us. I got to know Alf Garnett [actor Warren Mitchell], Honour Blackman and Emma Thompson. All people from all walks of life have just been amazing.”
Their lawyer throughout, Karen Todner, told the Broadway: “I am absolutely delighted. I have represented him for 10 years and it has been a complete emotional rollercoaster. But in the end we got the right moral and legal decision.
“When I heard the news I cried for about an hour and a half, and so did Janis.”
But the experience has taken its toll. Ms Todner said: “I don’t think Gary has kept his spirits up [throughout]. He has been horribly depressed and found the whole experience horrendous. Janis and I have both felt that we have been fighting for Gary’s life; it is not something that you can give up on.”