On 27 August last year a car outside a US military base in Northamptonshire, England collided with a motorbike ridden by 19-year-old Harry Dunn. Dunn was killed but the alleged driver of the vehicle, Anne Sacoolas, the wife of an American intelligence officer on the base, has not been tried, despite being charged. This is because US authorities rapidly removed Sacoolas and her husband from the UK, citing diplomatic immunity. And so began a tussle as the UK sought the extradition of Sacoolas, which was denied. Dunn’s parents (pictured, second and fourth from left) even travelled to the White House to meet President Trump, to no avail. Now there is talk of trying her in absentia – a rarity in UK courts – and some hints that Sacoolas might be willing to appear virtually.
The year before I was born, my 10-year-old brother was riding his bicycle when he was struck by a car driven by an American serviceman. My brother was killed. As I grew up, I was aware of a lone picture in my parents’ bedroom of a child who looked oddly like me but he was mentioned rarely. I knew that there was a tin in their bedroom that contained memories of his life: a watch, some collectors’ cards. He was a shadow that sometimes passed through our lives but it was only many years later, as an adult, that I dared ask my sisters what had happened on that day.
The parents of Harry Dunn seek through their legal actions some sense of that complicated and perhaps modern word, “closure”. I am not sure that it ever comes – in old age my mum would occasionally confuse me with my brother; talk to me as though I were him. But even if this process cannot deliver freedom from all their pain, Anne Sacoolas should come and face the Dunns. If she doesn’t, the reverberations will edge across the years, adding fissures to people’s lives.