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Thursday, 29 November 2012

What hand did the British government have in halting the Richard O'Dwyer extradition, and why are they not claiming credit?

Here's a thought.  US prosecutors demanding extradition of Sheffield student Richard O'Dwyer for copyright infringement definitely did not wake up one morning feeling generous.

Granted, it might have started to dawn on prosecutors, pressured by film and record studios to pursue the case, that their demand for extradition might be a tad flimsy.

Plenty of lawyers have been in touch with me with the view that, whilst Richard, some argue, should have faced prosecution in the UK, the case for extradition was very thin indeed.

The novel Deferred Prosecution Agreement deal reached with O'Dwyer is almost certainly a face-saving exercise.

But the timing of the deal suggests to me the British government had a welcome hand in bringing the case to a relatively speedy resolution (18 months, compared to the ten years Gary McKinnon remained in legal limbo).

16th October: Gary Mckinnon's extradition was halted. US Attorney General Eric Holder was reported to be "very disappointed" and "completely screwed" by Theresa May's decision.

7th November: Obama is re-elected, ending months of political uncertainty in Washington. Note in his 2nd and final term, Obama is no longer fighting for campaign dollars from traditional Democrat supporters like the Hollywood movie studios.

21st November: Attorney General Eric Holder visits UK on a charm offensive. Accepts he was "disappointed" but denies saying he felt "completely screwed" re McKinnon in a Radio 4 Today interview.

Whilst I tweeted the BBC's Sarah Montague that she should have asked about O'Dwyer, Eric Holder trotted off for tea and biscuits with Theresa May.

Just one week later..

28th November: The extradition of Richard O'Dwyer, hugely unpopular amongst British voters according to a YouGov survey last June, is dropped.

Just 9% of respondents thought O'Dwyer should be extradited, whilst 46% believed he should not be prosecuted at all.  26% thought he should be tried in the UK.

Crucially for Theresa May, the same poll showed even more Conservative voters (33%) thought he should be tried in the UK, with 45% believing he should not face prosecution at all.

It's well known international diplomacy is mostly about positioning and face-saving so it's hardly surprising the British government, if it did have a hand in this very welcome outcome, is staying quiet.

But it's a shame for democracy that we don't have a bit of transparency on the positions adopted by our elected representatives.

The US studios take something home from the Deferred Prosecution Deal struck with O'Dwyer - the press hysteria over a student potentially being shipped abroad as punishment for serving films from his Sheffield flat has almost certainly made a whole generation wary of crossing the big guns who control the world's supply of western music and film.

Whether or not Theresa May did have a hand in halting the extradition in reality there's not going to be another O'Dwyer.

The US prosecution authorities walked naively into a political minefield.

Whilst the Hollywood studios lapped up the publicity as a massive, free anti-piracy commercial carrying a potent warning, I doubt Washington ever envisaged the burgeoning publicity and political backlash in Britain around O'Dwyer - nor in New Zealand for Kim Dotcom.

The message sent back across the Atlantic is simple: the UK/US extradition deal is a political hot potato in Westminster. Any attempt to abuse the process to nab petty criminals who've never set foot in the US may seriously hinder future attempts to ship terrorists, rapists and murderers back to the US.

I doubt anyone will try a stunt like this for quite a while.



  1. The last line nails it.....it was just a stunt all along, and everyone knows it.

  2. In answer to the question *What hand did the British government have in halting the Richard O'Dwyer extradition, and why are they not claiming credit?*
    The answer is: absolutely nothing I can assure you


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