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Powerful MPs rally around hacker

PUBLISHED: 11:05 19 November 2009 | UPDATED: 16:33 07 September 2010

A POWERFUL group of MPs has told the Home Secretary that he can and should halt the extradition of vulnerable Crouch End computer hacker Gary McKinnon. In a letter to Alan Johnson, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee Keith Vaz MP

Susanna Wilkey

A POWERFUL group of MPs has told the Home Secretary that he can and should halt the extradition of vulnerable Crouch End computer hacker Gary McKinnon.

In a letter to Alan Johnson, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee Keith Vaz MP rejected claims that the minister is powerless to stop the Asperger's sufferer's extradition to the US.

The letter issued by the chairman to Mr Johnson said: "We received a clear legal opinion from Tim Owen QC and Julian Knowles, barristers at Matrix Chambers specialising in human rights and extradition law, that the scope for the exercise of discretion by the Home Secretary is greater than you believe.

"Because of Mr McKinnon's precarious state of mental health, the committee is of the view that he should not be extradited to the US and that you should exercise your discretion in this case."

It is a huge boost for the supporters of Mr McKinnon and will pile pressure on Mr Johnson to change his stance.

Former Highgate Wood school pupil Mr McKinnon, 43, faces up to 60 years in jail in America for hacking into the Pentagon's computer system while searching for proof of UFOs.

The committee held last week to examine the controversial treaty being used in the case of Mr McKinnon heard evidence from Mr Johnson, saying he did not have the power to stop the extradition, and Mr McKinnon's mother Janis Sharp - who said her son is suicidal and would rather die than be extradited.

The committee's letter also calls for a comprehensive review of the US-UK Extradition Treaty because it is concerned that there is a "serious lack of equality in the way the treaty's provisions apply to UK, as opposed to American, citizens".

Ms Sharp is delighted by the letter and said: "This is really good news. I am very pleased that the MPs have come down and said this and now I hope Alan Johnson listens - because up until now he has not.

"I am hopeful that Alan Johnson will do the right thing. Cross-party support from the MPs is great and with all these different people you would think that Mr Johnson would listen.

"I am really glad I had the chance to speak at the committee and was listened to, which was great."

Officially Mr Johnson has "stopped the clock" on Mr McKinnon's extradition while he considers new medical evidence on his mental health and he told the committee he is trying to come to a decision quickly.

In a reply letter to Mr Vaz, the Home Secretary refuted the claims that there is a serious lack of equality in the way the treaty's provisions apply and said he sees no need for a review of the extradition act.

He said the sole issue is whether extradition would or would not breach Mr McKinnon's human rights and unless the evidence shows that extradition would breach the European Convention on Human Rights it would be unlawful to refuse extradition.

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