'We’re not living, we’re existing': Harry Dunn’s mum on her fight for justice
Harry Dunn's mum speaks to NN Journal about how she is coping since his death and why she will never give up her fight for justice
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By Natalie Bloomer
On the night of August 27 2019 when Northamptonshire teenager Harry Dunn was killed, his mum Charlotte was working late at a local GP surgery. She left at about 7.30pm and passed Harry riding his motorbike as she travelled home. She flashed her lights and waved to him and he nodded his head to her as she drove by.
Around an hour later Harry was involved in an accident close to RAF Croughton, a military base run by the USA. Still conscious when the emergency services arrived, Harry was able to tell them that he had been hit by a woman driving on the wrong side of the road. That woman was Anne Sacoolas.
Within weeks of the accident Sacoolas, the American wife of a diplomat at RAF Croughton, claimed diplomatic immunity and returned home to the States.
It is a story that has now been told hundreds of times by newspapers and broadcasters around the world. But there’s another story. That of how Charlotte and her family are coping with their loss and how they find the strength to continue their fight for justice.
“I was just brushing my teeth and getting ready for bed when I got the call from Tim [Harry’s dad] to tell me Harry had been in a crash,” Charlotte says. “We went to pick up Harry’s twin brother Niall and went straight to the hospital.”
Shortly after arriving at the hospital the family were told that Harry had died.
“I’ve cursed myself ever since for working late that night. If I’d left on time I would have seen him at home and we’d have been talking about our days. He wouldn’t have left at the time he did and he wouldn’t have been on the road at the same time as Anne Sacoolas.”
Charlotte promised Harry that night to get justice for him. She never could have imagined the fight that awaited her family.
“The desire in my stomach to fulfil the promise I made to Harry is maybe even stronger now than on that night. The more torture we are put through the harder and stronger that desire burns. I’ve never made a promise to my boys that I couldn’t keep, I’ve never broken a promise to them, I’m not about to start now.”
The family’s battle has seen them thrust into the media spotlight and sit down with senior politicians in both the UK and the US including the former president Donald Trump.
“None of that comes naturally to me,” says Charlotte.
“I’ve always been the type of person to sit in the background. If I had to get up and talk about anything else I would probably freeze but when it’s about Harry I speak from my heart which makes it easier. There’s nothing easier to talk about than the truth - we’ve got nothing to hide.”
Charlotte is speaking to NN Journal via Zoom from her lawyer Radd Seiger’s house. Radd has been a friend and neighbour of the family for many years. When he heard what happened to Harry, he offered to help.
“She didn’t call me as a lawyer, I knocked on the door and just asked if they needed any help. We’re like family. I’ve known Harry since he was two-years-old,” he says.
“At the beginning we very much wanted to keep this private. We only went public when we were getting no response from those in power.”
A key question the family had was why Sacoolas had been able to leave the country without a proper investigation into the crash and why they weren’t told she had left until 11 days after. This was partly answered when they last year obtained a copy of an email sent from a Foreign Office official to the US. It said:
“I think that now the decision has been taken not to waive, [immunity] there's not much mileage in us asking you to keep the family here. It's obviously not us approving of their departure but I think you should feel able to put them on the next flight out.”
This seemed to confirm Charlotte’s fears that the Foreign Office had given Sacoolas the green light to leave.
Although the family’s campaign has led to huge wins including the closing of the loophole which allowed Sacoolas to claim diplomatic immunity, there have also been some devastating lows such as the news that the US was refusing to extradite her back to the UK. Charlotte says those ups and downs are incredibly hard to deal with.
“You very quickly go from feeling like you’re getting somewhere and having hope to losing it all again. The first major thing that knocked me was seeing the photos of her [Sacoolas] over in the States driving just weeks after she’d returned there. I just couldn’t understand how she could get behind a wheel and not constantly see my son hitting her windscreen.
“It put me in bed for a while, it hit me really, really hard. That was the first time that I felt like I couldn’t get out of bed. I didn’t eat and felt really poorly but if I’d stayed like that she’d have won. Then she wouldn’t have just taken my son, she’d have taken my life as well and I can’t afford to let that happen because Harry’s twin Niall needs me and my family needs me.”
Another blow came when a subject access request submitted to the Foreign Office and Home Office recently revealed that officials had labelled Charlotte as “excessive” and described Radd as “evil” and “aggressive”. An email said the family were “so convinced of everyone’s bad faith that it never crosses their mind that anything that we are telling them might be true.”
“It’s horrific and appalling the way we’ve been treated,” Charlotte says.
“It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that our own government has let us down in this way. I find it absolutely tragic that they went against us instead of supporting us. They wanted to be America’s friend and not make a fuss but that was my boy who was taken and they expected me to just get on with it. No.
“First they let us down but then they kicked us while we were down. They abandoned us.”
The documents also revealed comments made by Chief Constable of Northamptonshire Police Nick Adderley about Radd. In emails to the Home Office, the police chief said “the issue is with the family’s spokesperson who would disclose any engagement to the media and may not do so accurately.”
Adderley previously came in for criticism after he tweeted that it was “sad but predictable” that the family had decided to sue Sacoolas for civil damages and the Trump administration for misconduct. He has now been referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct following a complaint from the family.
Every moment of Charlotte’s days and nights are occupied with thoughts of Harry and the campaign. Five or six times a week she runs on her treadmill to try to clear her head. But as she does so a large canvas of Harry on his bike hangs on the wall in front of her and as soon as she steps off she kisses a picture of him on her ipad.
“I feel that he is always with me even though he’s not actually here. The nights are hard, I cry into my pillow yet don’t even realise I’m crying. I wake up after what I think is a dream and then realise that I’ve just been thinking about that night again and wondering about the missing pieces of the puzzle.
“None of us have really slept properly since Harry died. You don’t wake up in the morning and feel refreshed. We’re up until stupid hours in the morning talking and checking messages from supporters from all around the world in different time zones or we’re thinking about the campaign and the next steps.”
Harry always loved motorbikes, Charlotte remembers the first battery operated one he had as a toddler which she says he would ride flat out even then. By 13 he had his first dirt bike which he’d ride on a friend’s farm. Then as he approached his 16th birthday he saved up to buy a roadworthy bike. The first time he went out on it he got up at 5am and rode all the way from Northamptonshire to Weymouth on the back roads.
“That was how much he loved riding, it took him hours to get there but it was his favourite place in England and he wanted to go on his bike,” Charlotte says.
Harry also loved football and gadgets. He was a huge Cobblers fan and studied gaming at college. He was known for giving big bear hugs and would often light incense and candles for his mum if she’d had a bad day at work. When out on his bike, he would stop to take pictures of old buildings or nice views and text them to Charlotte. He loved his family and friends and was much loved by them in return.
“The void he has left is huge for all of us,” Charlotte says.
Charlotte and Radd are hopeful that the election of President Biden will lead to Trump’s decision not to extradite Sacoolas being reversed but they know there is a long road ahead of them.
“I am in daily contact with officials in London and Washington. We know it will take time but I know one day this will be resolved in our favour,” Radd says.
For Charlotte, the need to fulfil her promise to Harry to get justice keeps her going.
“We’re not living, we’re existing. We’re surviving and managing - some days we manage better than others and some days not at all, but we’re not living.
“We want to get to a place where we can live again but until Sacoolas faces justice we can’t rebuild our lives. We don’t get an inquest, I don’t get to learn about the last few hours of Harry’s life - I can’t live without knowing that, I can’t let go of this until we get that.”