Britain charges wife of US diplomat over teen's death

Charlotte Charles (R) and Tim Dunn have asked the United States to extradite American national Anna Sacoolas over the death of their son Harry in a road accident (AFP Photo/DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS)

London (AFP) - British authorities on Friday charged the wife of an American diplomat who left the country after being involved in a car accident that killed a teenager.

The case of Anna Sacoolas has been a thorn in London's close relations with Washington, stirring up debates over the limits of diplomatic immunity in cases unrelated to national security.

It has been a political headache for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is cultivating trade relations with Washington in a bid to offset the potential damage of Britain's withdrawal from the EU.

The US State Department said it was "disappointed" by Friday's development, reasserting that in Washington's view Sacoolas enjoys diplomatic immunity in the case.

Briton Harry Dunn, 19, died on August 27 when his motorbike and a car driving on the wrong side of the road collided near an airbase in Northamptonshire, central England, which is used by the US military as a communications hub.

Sacoolas admitted in October to being the driver, but has cited immunity while refusing to return to Britain to face justice, as Dunn's parents demand.

Britain's Crown Prosecution Service said it has now authorised police in Northamptonshire to charge Sacoolas in absentia with causing death by dangerous driving.

"The criminal proceedings against Anne Sacoolas are now active and... she has a right to a fair trial," chief prosecutor Janine Smith said in a statement.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the charges "an important step" that should prompt Sacoolas to return to Britain.

"I hope that Anne Sacoolas will now realise the right thing to do is to come back to the UK and cooperate with the criminal justice process," Raab said in a statement.

US President Donald Trump has called the crash a "terrible accident," saying it was common for Americans in Britain to have a hard time driving on the left side of the road.

The State Department, while reiterating its "deepest sympathies" for Dunn's family, said the decision to bring charges was not "helpful."

"We are disappointed by today's announcement and fear that it will not bring a resolution closer," said a spokesperson.

"The United States has been clear that, at the time the accident occurred, and for the duration of her stay in the UK, the driver in this case had status that conferred diplomatic immunities," the State Department spokesperson added.

"The Foreign Secretary stated the same in Parliament. We do not believe that the UK's charging decision is a helpful development."

Dunn's parents, Charlotte Charles and Tim Dunn, have urged the Trump administration to extradite Sacoolas to Britain, to no avail.

Dunn's parents visited the White House on October 15. They called Trump warm and welcoming but criticised the White House's attempts to engineer a snap meeting with Sacoolas, who was in a room next door with photographers. The parents left without meeting Sacoolas.