New evidence seen by Channel 4 News suggests Gary McKinnon is mentally fit enough to be extradited. But the report is by an expert who previously said McKinnon would likely commit suicide if deported.
Mr McKinnon (pictured) has fought for more than a decade to stop the government extraditing him to the US on computer hacking charges. The decision over whether to reject the request for his transfer across the Atlantic has hinged on the likelihood of him trying to take his own life.
He is wanted by the US authorities on charges of hacking into Nasa and Pentagon computers from his home in north London in the months following 9/11.
Three years ago, Mr McKinnon’s legal team commissioned Prof Declan Murphy to carry out a psychiatric examination of the 46-year-old, as they fought to prove that the Asperger’s sufferer would likely commit suicide if he was extradited.
And Professor Murphy’s evaluation of Mr McKinnon appeared to firmly support the lawyers’ argument that transiting him to America would be in breach of European convention.
The King’s College academic concluded that unless the patient he had seen was under constant supervision if he was to be imprisoned in the US, he would almost certainly attempt suicide.
Last year, the Home Office – which will ultimately decide whether to green-light his extradition – also hired Professor Murphy to give his professional opinion on Mr McKinnon, even though he had not seen the Scottish hacker since writing his original report.
Sources say the report will represent “the final word” in Home Secretary Theresa May‘s decision, even though four other experts have also submitted evaluations, having seen Mr McKinnon face-to-face in recent months and years.
Channel 4 News has seen Prof Murphy’s two reports – the one from 2009 and the one from the end of last year – and the contrast between them is stark.
In his 2009 report commissioned by Mr McKinnon’s family, Professor Murphy warned: “If Mr McKinnon is deported to the US, he will require – in my opinion – continual observation on a one-one basis during that time period, and for the rest of his incarceration. If this does not happen, he is likely to make a serious attempt at suicide.
That assessment appears to have changed drastically by last year, when he makes no recommendation for one-to-one, round-the-clock observation of Mr McKinnon.
In the report commissioned by the Home Office he writes: “The risk of actual self-harm could be ameliorated by regular contact with mental health professionals with supportive counselling and listening services of the type that are available within UK prisons.”
And. asked by the Home Office to assess the chances of Mr McKinnon killing himself if his deportation was granted, Prof Murphy plays down the possibility by describing how his suicide plans were far-fetched and poorly thought out.
“Suicide plans are not well formulated, e.g. he initially informed Dr Vermeulen about an elaborate plan to harm himself involving potassium chloride and electric shock, though he then gave contradictory accounts of his level of knowledge about the likely fatal dose of potassium chloride,” he writes.
It’s an in absentia report and it contradicts his previous face-to-face report. It’s a mystery to everyone – Janis Sharp
But Professor Murphy he makes no mention of a conversation he had with his patient three years earlier – included in his original report – in which Mr McKinnon stated he would kill himself by overdosing on sleeping tablets, an arguably less “elaborate” plan.
Professor Murphy said that he could not comment on Mr McKinnon’s case while it is still being considered by the Home Secretary.
Human rights lawyer, Julian Knowles QC, said that there is no conflict of interest regarding Professor Murphy’s reports for both the McKinnon family and the Home Office.
“There is no property in a witness. A witness is not owned by either side. The witness is under obligation not to reveal privileged matters that are confidential, but there is no problem in speaking to either side,” he said.
But Mr McKinnon’s mother, Janis Sharp, said she could not understand why Professor Murphy’s conclusions appeared to have changed, particularly as her son had refused to see the pychiatrist for almost three years.
“He’s obviously changed his mind,” she said.
And referring to reports of Mr McKinnon’s mental state by other experts, she added: “What basis could he possibly have to go against the expert opinions of four of the top people in the country, who say that Gary will absolutely take his own life. It’s an in absentia report and it contradicts his previous face-to-face report. What did he base this on? It’s a mystery to everyone.”
Ms Sharp said that the contents of Professor Murphy’s latest evaluation had upset her son.
“To suddenly have Professor Murphy say the opposite for no reason that anyone can fathom has shaken Gary to the core,” she said.
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Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil liberties campaign group Liberty, told Channel 4 News that the dissimilarities in Professor Murphy’s two reports calls into question the Home Office’s handling of Mr McKinnon’s extradition case.
“I think there are obviously questions now about Professor Murphy’s second report: it’s so contrasting with the first report which was based on an interview with Gary McKinnon,” she said.
“I’m interested in what makes a senior consultant psychiatrist, having seen a patient [and concluded that] they have a fixed idea that suicide is the best outcome for them, to switch to saying there’s only a moderate risk of suicide.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a psychiatrist who’s seen a patient and written a report then speaks to the home office and waters down the report.”
Ms Chakrabarti added: “If all the Home Office has got to say that Gary McKinnon is fit for extradition is the evidence of an expert who contradicts his earlier evidence on [his] vulnerability, I think it’s impossible for the home office to extradite this man.”
As recently as this month, David Cameron raised Mr McKinnon’s plight with US President Barack Obama. And in opposition, the prime minister backed his bid to be tried in the UK.
In a statement, the home office said:
“After consulting the Chief Medical Officer, the Home Secretary instructed two independent experts to review the case and their report was sent to Mr McKinnon’s representatives on 24 February in line with the directions of the court. Mr McKinnon and his legal team have until 6 April to respond and make any further representations.
“The Home Secretary will consider the report alongside all other relevant material and aims to reach a decision as soon as is consistent with dealing fairly and properly with this case.”
Further inconsistencies between the reports
Suicidal, but not hopeless?
2009: “With regards to the future, Mr McKinnon stated that he was not confident about his future in that he expects to be deported…[he] stated that as a result…he would be very likely to face a very long prison sentence – approximately 60 years…I asked Mr McKinnon how he felt about this outcome and he stated ‘I don’t even plan to go over there. I’ll top myself. They treat you worse than animals. I couldn’t face it – I couldn’t stand being bullied at school, so I definitely could not stand being jailed. I don’t think I’d be protected. I’d top myself before I go.'”
2011: “At an appointment with [me], he did not express significant hopelessness or helplessness.
2009: “I cannot comment in an expert way on Mr McKinnon’s ability to cope with a custodial sentence within an American prison – as I have no experience of American prisons.”
2011: “The arrangements made for transit to the US…refer to supervised transit to a detention centre which has psychiatry, psychology and counselling services available. From a psychiatric viewpoint, these arrangements appear, at face value, to be adequate and…are compatible with UK standards.”
Treatment of Asperger’s
2009: “There are relatively few specialist inpatient units (in Britain) for people with an ASD and a normal intelligence who have significant forensic histories. However, one such facility does exist.”
2011: “Individuals with autistic/Asperger traits are overrepresented in the prison population, and it is not unusual for prison mental health clinicians to have to deal with such individuals or, indeed, with a wide range of complex cases.”