Mother of Gary McKinnon, the hacker facing extradition, fears she will never see him again
The mother of Gary McKinnon, the Briton facing extradition to the United States for hacking into the Pentagon computer systems, spoke last night of her “terror” that she might never see him again.Photo: Facundo Arrizabalaga
Janis Sharp, 60, is convinced that if her son is handed over to the Americans he will face a “show trial” and up to 60 years in a penitentiary if convicted.
“As far as I am concerned Gary cannot go,” she said at her home in north London. “He would never survive. We have to fight this and fight this.”
Mrs Sharp, whose son suffers from a form of autism, has appealed to the Prime Minister to intercede on his behalf. Campaigners want Mr McKinnon to face trial in his home country for breaking into Nasa and Pentagon networks, rather than sending him to America.
She went on: “I’m terrified of Gary being extradited to the US because at my age I would never see him again if he went there. Even if he served only half the sentence I would be dead before he came out, and if he served a quarter of it I still might not be.
“For Gary himself it would be unbearable. He’s a really good guy: a pacifist who has never hurt anyone and never would.
“It frightens me that in prisons over there they use stun guns and male rape is rife.
“Murderers get a couple of years and no one has ever been extradited for computer crime. So why discriminate against a guy who has got Aspergers who admitted to computer misuse without any lawyer being present?”
Mrs Sharp said that Mr McKinnon, who was initially arrested in 2002 and taken into custody again three years later, was in “a very bad state”.
“What I heard recently that most upset me is that he can’t look into his own eyes when he’s shaving in the morning. He feels there is a veil between him and the world.
“It’s been seven years now. When they first arrested him they would have had to have proved damage, but they waited until 2004, when they no longer had to do so, to come after him again.
“I think that’s totally cynical, but it seems the Americans can get away with anything they like.
“Gary obviously knew what he was doing was wrong. But he felt he was on a moral crusade to discover the truth.
“When the people from the high-tech crime unit arrested him they said ‘We’ve been monitoring your computers for several years and there’s been no damage. You’re looking at six months’ community service’.
“He was suddenly arrested again in June 2005 when they knew they no longer had to prove damage. They can now take any British citizen with an allegation alone.
“Yet if we want to extradite an American we have to prove probable cause which is actually evidence.
“We’ve refused to extradite Pinochet, we’ve refused to extradite IRA terrorists and we’ve refused to extradite Rwandans accused of war crimes.
“Yet it seems at the moment that we can let Gary be taken out there.”
Mr McKinnon admits that he hacked into 97 US computers from a bedroom in north London between 2001 and 2002 and left a message on one machine saying: “I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels.”
He says he was looking for evidence to show that the authorities have covered up the existence of UFOs.
However, the Americans claim he perpetrated “the biggest military hack of all time” and that it cost them more than $700,000 (436,000) to repair the damage he caused.
He was originally indicted in 2002 and in 2006 the UK authorities agreed to extradite him to the US for trial.
Since then he has appealed against his extradition to the House of Lords, the European Court of Human Rights and the Home Secretary but each attempt has failed.
Earlier this week he went to the High Court in a bid to force the Director of Public Prosecutions to put him on trial for computer misuse in the UK.
Mrs Sharp, whose campaign has been supported by the Prime Minister’s wife, Sarah, has appealed to Gordon Brown to intervene.
“I absolutely wish he would,” she said. “We’ve had seven years of hell and God, we really need a break.”