Two days ago, Harry Dunn’s mother Charlotte finally forced herself to strip her 19-year-old son’s bed. He last slept in it six-and-a-half weeks ago, the night before he was killed in a head-on collision with the vehicle of American diplomat’s wife Anne Sacoolas who was allegedly driving on the wrong side of the road.
‘That broke me, really broke me,’ says Charlotte. ‘It was the first time in six weeks I’ve really cried — really, really cried. There have been little breakdowns but we’ve all had to try to be stoic for Niall.’
Niall is Harry’s non-identical twin. He is devastated by his brother’s death, so much so that Thursday was the first time he left the family home since he last saw Harry less than an hour before the fatal crash.
The boys were brought up by Charlotte and their father Tim, and step-parents Bruce and Tracey, to be ‘honest as the day is long, own up if they’d done something wrong’ and ‘take responsibility for their actions’.
Both Bruce and Tracey have two grown-up children from earlier relationships, and all the children see each other as brothers and sisters, says Charlotte. Their step-parents, too, are ‘more like a second set of parents than steps’.
Harry as a teenager
Niall, who has understandably been hit hardest, cannot make sense of how Mrs Sacoolas can claim diplomatic immunity, leave the country and not face justice for his much-loved brother’s death. Few people can.
This week the family appealed to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to intervene. He told them the U.S. government had refused two requests to waive Mrs Sacoolas’ immunity. Now they believe the only way to ensure their son’s death is not ‘swept under the carpet’ is to reveal the full detail of his horrific death.
In America: Anne Sacoolas
The family’s only hope now is that the court of public opinion will bring pressure to bear on President Trump.
‘This is an abuse of diplomatic immunity,’ says Charlotte. ‘When the laws were drawn up in the Sixties they weren’t intended to protect a diplomat’s wife who had, albeit unintentionally, killed a 19-year-old boy in an accident. No one else should ever have to suffer as we are — as Harry did.
‘It still feels unreal. But when you wake up in the morning, if you manage to get any rest at all, and that gnawing grief feeling in the pit of your tummy hits you, you know it is.
‘The weather that day was lovely — about 25 degrees — so Harry (a keen motorbike enthusiast) wanted to go for a ride to see his brother who’d moved out of our house in April and his dad.
‘I drove past him on my way home from work at 7.10pm. He nodded to me. I put up my hand and thought I’d see him in a couple of hours.
‘Well I did, but he wasn’t alive the next time I got to . . . ’
Bruce takes Charlotte’s hand as Tracey strokes Tim’s arm. For several minutes, the hotel room where we meet is filled with an impossibly sad silence until Charlotte wipes the tears from her cheeks to muster a watery smile.
‘The boys were really close,’ she says. ‘As youngsters they were inseparable and always up to mischief.’ She reminisces about the time, when they were 18 months old, she caught them trying to break out of the play pen — Niall on all fours and Harry climbing onto his back. While there were no girlfriends to report, Harry had told his mum that ‘it wasn’t quiet in the girl department’.
Devoted brothers: Harry, right, and Niall, aged three
Niall, who works as a steel fabricator, moved back in with his mum after they lost Harry. ‘Bless his heart, he’s said it really upsets him to see us upset so we’ve had to be strong for him.’
She adds: Thursday was the first day he went out of the house because it was his great-grandfather’s — Tim’s grandad’s — funeral. That’s why I chose Thursday to remove Harry’s sheets from his bed. He’d only slept on them once . . .’
Charlotte, 44, works in a GP’s surgery, while her husband Bruce, 55, is a construction site manager. The twins’ father Tim, 50, is a maintenance manager at a boarding school, while his wife Tracey, 52, works for the NHS in clinical coding. They are a close-knit, deeply caring family who have only ever sought to put their children first.
Their grief is raw and painful to see — as is their ‘sense of injustice’ and ‘bewilderment’.
The nation — indeed the world — has been shocked since news of Harry’s death broke last weekend. He was killed near RAF Croughton, a U.S. intelligence hub, in Northamptonshire on August 27. It is said that Mrs Sacoolas was driving on the wrong side of the road when the collision happened.
Six days after Harry’s death when officers from Northampton told them they intended to charge Mrs Sacoolas with death by dangerous driving — for which, if found guilty, she would face a custodial sentence — they asked the charge to be reduced to death by careless driving.
‘They told us two of her children were in the car with her,’ says Charlotte. ‘That broke us. We were really upset for them. How on earth must those children be feeling? They must be extremely traumatised. That was shocking.
Grieving: Left to right, Tim, Tracey, Bruce and Charlotte
‘We were very honest with the police and said, although we obviously wanted justice for our son, as parents ourselves, we wanted to work with the police and courts to get the charge reduced and push for a suspended sentence so she could carry on being a mum.
‘Now looking back we actually curse ourselves for being so understanding.’
Charlotte cries. ‘We’re six weeks on and we’ve had nothing. It’s like Harry’s worth nothing. They’ve swept him under the carpet.’
This family is fighting in every way they can to seek justice for Harry, putting pressure upon the U.S. government to waive the diplomatic immunity that protects Mrs Sacoolas from prosecution.
They have done so with the sort of measured dignity that says much about the people they are. When Charlotte sat beside her son’s terribly broken body at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital six-and-a-half weeks ago she made him a promise. ‘We’d asked if we could do organ donation,’ she says. ‘They just looked at us and said, “I’m sorry. There’s nothing to donate.” There wasn’t anything much that wasn’t broken either inside or out.
‘We were only left with tissue donation. I believe that’s the retinas of his eyes and the skin that wasn’t touched.’
She adds: ‘We each had a few minutes with him. I promised him we would all still look after each other. I said that we’d find a way of continuing to live our lives although it would be very different. And I promised him justice would be done. Driving away from the hospital was…’
She shakes her head. ‘I didn’t want to leave him. I didn’t want to go home. I felt I was letting him down by leaving him there.’
Next week, they will travel to the States in the hope of pleading their case with President Trump who said, three days ago, they are ‘trying to work something out’.
They will also appear on U.S. television to garner public support, which is already wholly sympathetic to this family. ‘We’ve had thousands of messages of support from America,’ says Tim. ‘There’s just disbelief this is happening. I am hopeful. For the President of the United States to actually mention our son and say he is looking into it brings me hope. It means Harry is on his radar.
Charlotte’s face is full of sorrow when she looks at Tim from whom she separated when the twins were 13 months old.
‘We’ve heard nothing from Mrs Sacoolas. I want her side of the story, particularly for Tim’s sake. He had the horrific experience of being with Harry at the scene of the accident.’
Tim was at his home little more than three miles away when a friend from the fire brigade, recognising Harry, called to tell him his son had been in an accident.
‘You don’t think it’s going to be the worst thing ever,’ he says. ‘I thought, “silly b****r’s hurt himself.” Then when I got there, there was a police cordon so I had to park a couple of hundred yards away. I walked up to a policeman and said, “I’m his dad.” He said, “all right, they’re just doing something to him.” The paramedics were working on him. They had put him on a stretcher and had torn off all his clothes. I could see his body.
Tim stares at the wall as he speaks. His anguish is written over his face and those around him shed silent tears. This is the first time he has spoken about that dreadful evening.
‘I couldn’t get close enough to hold his hand. There were too many people working on him.
‘Oh, I wish I could have held his hand.’ A heartfelt sigh rocks this man’s heavy frame.
Charlotte sobs: ‘I wish you could have done.’
Tim answers: ‘I think about that all the time.’
He knew his son’s legs and arms were broken, but, at that time, had no notion of his serious chest injuries or that he was internally bleeding.
‘The general consensus was he was going to be OK,’ he says. ‘When I phoned Charlotte, Bruce answered. I was glad. Telling her would have been the worst thing I’d have ever had to do.’
Charlotte and Bruce headed immediately to the hospital after picking up Niall.
‘I can’t explain it but I knew we’d lost him,’ she says. ‘Niall sat in the front of the car and just reached round to the back and grabbed my hand. We don’t know yet when he died because I haven’t been brave enough to ask for the discharge summary from the hospital whether they lost him on the way or not. But I knew he’d gone. I can’t explain it. I just had that feeling in the pit of my stomach.’
Charlotte knows that 16 staff at the John Radcliffe tried to save Harry.
Tim says: ‘The despair was awful. It was like the biggest pain inside. It just comes out. It’s like your brain wants to explode.’
Charlotte nods: ‘Ever since that day everything hurts. It hurts inside and outside your head. The grief comes out in many ways because we’re not able to grieve. We have to stay focused to try to get justice for Harry.’ The family were told six days after Harry’s funeral, which took place on September 18, that Mrs Sacoolas had left the country.
‘We’d just thought this was a very, very clear-cut case and were concentrating on getting Harry’s body back from the Coroner after the post-mortem. We had one day with him at the funeral directors before they had to close the coffin,’ says Charlotte.
‘We spent as long as we could with him and left some bits and pieces for him. Harry was a bit of a b****r for driving with his visor up because he liked the air on his face so he always carried a lip balm with him. I placed his lip balm and one of his Kawasaki key rings on his chest.’ Such was this genial young man’s popularity his funeral was attended by more than 300 mourners.
‘People say, “Oh, you’re coping with it really well.” But we’re not dealing with it,’ says Charlotte. ‘Niall’s not dealing with it. As soon as you come off camera you break and you have to pick yourself back up because you know you’re going to the next studio to get your story out again. This has to be as far-reaching as possible because we have to get justice for our son.’
The family collected at Charlotte’s home when police spoke to them on September 24.
‘This is a small community,’ says Tim. ‘There had been so many rumours that the Americans had probably pulled her out so we were expecting it, but it was still gut wrenching. Losing my son was the worst pain I’d ever felt.
‘When the police officer told us they couldn’t do anything, that there was less than a 1 per cent chance of getting a prosecution, it was like I’d lost him again. I remember standing in your kitchen,’ he nods at Bruce, ‘and thinking, “Oh my God, you’ve just let her go.”’
Charlotte continues: ‘We’re not vengeful people but the longer this goes on and we hear nothing from her, the more the anger mounts. We have accepted this is a terrible accident from day one. I want to hear her side of the story.
She looks at Tracey. ‘We still can’t understand as mothers ourselves that she thinks it was the right thing to do to get on a plane and run away.’
Tracey agrees. ‘In our opinion diplomatic immunity is to protect a diplomat who is in danger so they can be removed from the danger. Anne Sacoolas was not in danger but Harry lost his life. We, Harry’s family, need that justice.’