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Harry Dunn

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:17 pm on 21st October 2019.

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Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 7:17 pm, 21st October 2019

May I thank the right hon. Lady for the tenor of her opening remarks? I join her in expressing my deepest condolences to the family. I also agree with her that the natural grief that any parent would suffer as a result of losing their child has certainly been compounded by having to go through these legal and what will feel like bureaucratic obstacles. Equally, on our side, we have to ensure that justice is being done by adhering to the legal route; otherwise we impair the very objective that I think we are all seeking to achieve.

The right hon. Lady raises a number of issues. On the suggestion that there was an attempt at a photo opportunity, it had actually been requested by the representative of the family to bring media to the meeting that I hosted, and I declined because I thought it was inappropriate. I expressed my deepest condolences and sympathies to the family and made it clear when I met him that I would do anything that I could and that they should feel free to come back to me directly if there was any support that they felt they needed.

The right hon. Lady asks about the difference between an exchange of notes and a memorandum of understanding. The exchange of notes and exchange of letters under international law is not decisive; what matters is the tenor of the language. However, they effectively implement administrative arrangements under the Vienna convention of diplomatic relations, so they would be of similar status to an MOU.

The right hon. Lady asks about the anomaly that spouses were not covered by the waiver arrangements. I agree that that is an anomaly. That is why I have instituted a review. Since 1995, we have not seen—certainly, having looked very carefully at this, I am not aware of—any case that has tested them. Therefore, this is probably the first time that the anomaly has come to light, certainly to me, but also, given that they have not really been implemented or tested in this way, more generally to the Foreign Office. The exchange of notes covered the technical and administrative employees at the Croughton annexe—which was the subject of another of her questions—whereas the diplomatic list that she refers to applies to members of the US embassy.

The right hon. Lady asks what we knew at the point at which the individual left this country to go back home to the US. We were made aware, I think, a day or two before—I can check—and we registered our strong objections. The right hon. Lady suggested—this is very important—that there should have been checks at ports or that we should immediately have tipped off the police. It would have been unlawful to arrest the individual under the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations, so that would not have been, I think we can all agree, a responsible or productive thing to have done. Indeed, it would have been an illegal thing to do.

The right hon. Lady asks about the family’s visit to the US. We were aware of that visit. I was not aware of who Mrs Dunn would meet, but I did make it clear during our meeting that I would help with anything and gave her the direct line to my office. Indeed, we have contacts with the representative of the family, and no request was made to us for support when they went to the US, nor were we aware of the details of that trip.

The right hon. Lady asks about the delay in informing Harry Dunn’s family once Ms Sacoolas had left the country. As I said before, it was one or two days. The reason that we asked for a little bit of time—this request was not made by me, and I was not aware of it, but by my officials—was to make sure that we could be very clear on what the next course of action would be, and, indeed, precisely so that they could inform Ministers before the family were aware, because we were aware that there would immediately be questions coming back about what we would do next. There was a further delay from the police. I know that they have been very mindful of the sensitivities of the family at every stage, but ultimately that is, I am afraid, a question for them.

The right hon. Lady asks about barriers to justice being done. Ultimately, that must be for the CPS and the police to decide, and we are obviously in close contact with them, but I am currently aware of no barriers to justice in this case. At every stage during this process, I have been keen to ensure, as have my officials, that we can remove any obstacles to justice being done.

The right hon. Lady talked about the need for transparency, which I know she has made some remarks about in the media. In the same spirit, I point out that, while we have never had a case that has tested these arrangements since 1995—at least, as far as I am aware, and I have checked very carefully—the arrangements were reviewed in 2001. That review was an opportunity to address this issue. It was left unresolved, but the number of staff at the Croughton annexe was substantially increased. In fact, it doubled in size.

That is the full background to not only this case but the arrangements made for the Croughton annexe. I think that the whole House will join me in not only expressing our condolences but trying to ensure that, independently and in the correct way, the police and the CPS are free from political interference and any bureaucratic obstacles to see justice done. Having talked to the parents of Harry Dunn, I know that ultimately, that is the solace that they are looking for right now.