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Obama’s comments fail to ease McKinnon extradition threat

The future of a disabled computer hacker threatened with extradition to the United States remains unclear, despite his case being discussed by Barack Obama and David Cameron during the US president’s state visit.

The president told journalists that Gary McKinnon’s case was “in the hands of the British legal system”, and added: “We have confidence in the British legal system coming to a just conclusion and so we await resolution and we will be respectful of their process.”

Some reports suggested this meant the US would abide by the decision reached by the UK government – which is still considering the case – while others expressed disappointment that Obama did not appear to have softened his government’s insistence that McKinnon be extradited.

If extradited, McKinnon, who has Asperger’s syndrome, faces a trial for allegedly hacking into US defense department computer systems in search of evidence of extra-terrestrial life, and a possible prison sentence of 60 years if convicted.

McKinnon’s supporters insist that such an action would breach his human rights, as his mental health has deteriorated as a result of the case and he has said he would try to kill himself if extradited. They want him tried in the UK.

The home secretary, Theresa May, has been considering medical evidence relating to McKinnon’s mental health, but has now been examining the case for more than a year.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the campaigning human rights organisation Liberty, which is backing McKinnon’s fight against extradition, said: “If, as the president says, he will be ‘respectful’ of our legal process, then he should be happy for Gary to be dealt with here in the UK.

“If our government seeks to honour the words of both coalition partners in opposition, it will decide that Gary’s condition warrants halting this farcical extradition immediately, so that justice and compassion can be dispensed at home.”

The prime minister told a joint news conference with Obama that May was considering the reports on McKinnon’s mental health, and added: “We must follow the proper processes and make sure this case is dealt with in the proper way and I am sure that that is the case.”

A Home Office spokesman added later: “Extradition can only be refused at this late stage in the process if the home secretary decides that extradition would breach Gary McKinnon’s human rights.

“The home secretary aims to reach a decision as soon as is consistent with dealing fairly and properly with all matters raised by Mr McKinnon’s legal team.”