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Home Secretary to decide on McKinnon extradition by October

Scots sysadmin waits to hear if he'll face NASA hacking charges in the US

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The UK Home Secretary is due to decide by mid-October whether or not to order Gary McKinnon's extradition to the US, a hearing at the High Court heard on Tuesday.

The hearing followed a decision by McKinnon and his legal team to decline to undergo a Home Office medical test by a doctor, Professor Thomas Fahy, whom McKinnon's legal team said lacked specialist skill in assessing the mental state of people with Asperger's. Experts in autism, including Doctor Jan Vermeulen who carried out a face-to-face assessment of McKinnon, have warned that McKinnon is at severe risk of committing suicide if faced with the prospect of a US trial on computer hacking charges.

An assessment of his suicide risk will be a key factor in the deliberations of Home Secretary Theresa May.

McKinnon, 46, admits hacking into US military and NASA computers during 2001 and 2002 with the aim of hunting for suppressed evidence about UFOs. But he denies causing damage and has consistently sought a trial in the UK since extradition proceeding began in late 2005, three years after his arrest by UK police.

His case was the topic of unsuccessful appeals that went all the way up to the House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights before McKinnon was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, in August 2008. Labour Home Secretary Alan Johnson allowed McKinnon’s extradition despite medical evidence but extradition was later blocked pending a judicial review. This review was adjourned after the UK's incoming Home Secretary, Theresa May, decided to re-examine the medical evidence back in May 2010.

Last week a Home Office spokesman said May was close to making a decision. "The Home Secretary will make a decision as soon as possible: this is a complex case, in a complex area of the law, and a large amount of material has been submitted, some of it relatively recently," he said.

McKinnon's case for trial in the UK has been supported by numerous public figures including Sting, David Gilmour, Stephen Fry, Terry Waite, Tony Benn, and numerous politicians of all hues. The issue has spawned debate in Parliament and reviews of the extradition laws between the US and UK, which critics argue are one-sided and unfair. Efforts to come to a diplomatic agreement about the case have been fruitless.

May's decision in October is unlikely to be the last word on the case, if past form is any guide. And a further judicial review is more than likely if this review goes against McKinnon. ®

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