LONDON — Anne Sacoolas, the woman accused of killing British teenager Harry Dunn while driving on the wrong side of the road in England, has been referred to as "the wife of a U.S. diplomat" in reports on the 2019 incident, but her lawyer told a Virginia court on Wednesday that she was working for U.S. intelligence.
The assertion reopens questions about whether Sacoolas had diplomatic immunity when she fled Britain for her home in Virginia in August 2019 — though the Trump administration denied Britain’s request to extradite Sacoolas, and last week the Biden administration said it considered that decision final.
She has been charged in Britain with causing death by dangerous driving.
The family of Dunn, a 19-year-old who was driving a motorcycle when he was hit, has also launched a U.S. federal lawsuit claiming wrongful death and seeking financial damages from Sacoolas.
At the U.S. District Court in Alexandria on Wednesday, Sacoolas’s lawyer, John McGavin, said, “Mr. and Mrs. Sacoolas were employed by an intelligence agency of the United States, and that’s why she left,” according to the Press Association, which was listening to the court case via an audio link.
McGavin told the court that he was unable to “completely candidly” explain the family’s departure. “I know the answer, but I cannot disclose it,” he said, according to Press Association.
Previously, it had been public only that her husband, Jonathan Sacoolas, was working for the U.S. government in at a Royal Air Force base in Croughton, England — a base known to be used by U.S. intelligence agencies.
The prime minister’s spokesman told reporters on Thursday the British government had been told Anne Sacoolas was a “spouse with no official role.”
The opposition Labour Party on Thursday questioned what the government knew.
“Did the Foreign Secretary simply accept the US Embassy’s account without asking any questions on behalf of a UK citizen, or has he misled the House [of Commons]?,” lawmaker Lisa Nandy tweeted.
A 1995 agreement with the U.S. government stipulates that American staff posted to the Croughton base can’t claim diplomatic immunity to avoid prosecution for actions outside their duties. But the British High Court ruled last year that the deal didn’t waive immunity for dependents such as Anne Sacoolas.
That loophole was closed following lobbying by the Dunn family.
Now, the family says that if Anne Sacoolas was working for a U.S. intelligence agency at the time of the crash, the U.S. should not have been able to assert diplomatic immunity and she should not have been allowed to leave the U.K.
“This is an astonishing revelation,” Radd Seiger, a Dunn family spokesman, told The Washington Post. “The critical question has always been: Was Anne Sacoolas working at the time of crash at Croughton? We’ve never been able to establish that through official channels. All along, we were told she was a dependent. Now, her own lawyer blurts out in court, she’s an employee. And employees had their immunity pre-waived under the 1995 agreement.”
Ned Price, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, reiterated the position on Thursday that Sacoolas had diplomatic immunity as the “spouse of an accredited staff member of the U.S. Embassy office.”
He said: “This was a tragic accident. Since the tragic accident occurred, the United States has been closely engaged with the U.K. government, and we have been transparent about our positions on legal and diplomatic matters concerning this accident.
“At the time the accident occurred, and for the duration of her stay in the U.K., the U.S. citizen driver in this case had immunity from criminal jurisdiction.”
Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.