Business Insider Edition

'It happens': Trump defended a US diplomat's wife suspected of fatally crashing into a British teen by saying she wasn't used to driving on the other side of the road

Alexandra Ma , Business Insider US
 Oct 10, 2019, 04:35 PM
President Donald Trump.
  • Anne Sacoolas, the wife of an American diplomat, is suspected of fatally crashing into British teenager Harry Dunn while driving on the wrong side of the road in late August.
  • She and her family claimed diplomatic immunity to return to the US shortly after the collision.
  • The British government has appealed to the US to have Sacoolas return to the UK to face questioning.
  • President Donald Trump on Wednesday defended her by suggesting it's not uncommon for accidents to happen when Americans to drive on the opposite side of the road.
  • He said publicly that he would speak to Sacoolas about returning to the UK, but a photo of his notes said Sacoolas would not go back.
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider SA.

President Donald Trump has defended the wife of a US diplomat who was involved in a fatal car crash in Britain by saying that "it happens" for Americans to accidentally drive on the wrong side of the road in the UK. Anne Sacoolas is suspected of hitting 19-year-old Harry Dunn near RAF Croughton, a Royal Air Force base in England used by the US Air Force, in late August. Dunn died later at a local hospital.

Shortly after the crash Sacoolas and her family claimed diplomatic immunity and left for the US - reportedly on a private aircraft at the behest of American officials - despite telling police she would stay in the UK to face questioning.

Diplomats and their families are legally entitled under the 1961 Vienna Convention to claim immunity from being tried in their host country as long as they are not nationals there as well.

Sacoolas had been driving her Volvo XC90 luxury SUV on the wrong side the road when she collided with Dunn, who had been riding her motorcycle, Sky News and The Daily Beast reported. She had been in the country for two weeks at the time, The Daily Beast said.

'It happens'

Sacoolas' flight to the US after Dunn's death has sparked widespread criticism from the UK government, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab raising the issue with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking directly to Trump about it on Wednesday.

After the conversation Trump described the collision as "a terrible accident" but seemed to suggest it wasn't uncommon for Americans to get into accidents while driving on the opposite side of the road.

"I was telling Boris, we have a lot of Americans that [...] side on the fact that you have two wonderful parents that lost their son, and the woman was driving on the wrong side of the road," he told reporters in the White House Roosevelt Room, according to White House transcripts.

"And that can happen. You know, those are the opposite roads. That happens. I won't say it ever happened to me, but it did. When you get used to driving on our system and then you're all of a sudden in the other system, where you're driving - it happens. Have to be careful."

A home video of Dunn.
Sky News

He added that Sacoolas' use of diplomatic immunity to leave the UK was "a very, very complex issue," and that he would speak to her to "see what we can come up with so that there can be some healing." He did not answer questions on whether she would be sent back to the UK to face questioning.

Whether or not Sacoolas would return to the UK to face questioning had been unclear. However, a photo of Trump's notes - marked "SECRET," but shown in plain sight - showed that Pompeo told Raab that Sacoolas "will not return to the United Kingdom." This US decision had not been reported before.

Here's a photo of Trump's notes, as tweeted by Washington Post photographer Jabin Botsford:

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office has not yet responded to Insider's request for confirmation on Pompeo's conversation with Raab, and comment on Trump's remarks.

Sacoolas' legal right to claim diplomatic immunity came under scrutiny earlier this week as her husband's name does not appear on the UK's official list of diplomats in London.

However, sources from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Prime Minister's Office have told Insider that the family had the right to full immunity.

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