Page last updated at 14:48 GMT, Monday, 3 August 2009 15:48 UK

Minister lends support to hacker

Gary McKinnon
Gary McKinnon suffers from Asperger's Syndrome

Welsh Secretary Peter Hain has suggested that British computer hacker Gary McKinnon should face trial in the UK rather than be extradited to the US.

He told the Daily Mail the offence was committed "on British soil" and should be "assessed in a British context".

Mr McKinnon's mother Janis Sharp said Mr Hain's words were "refreshing", but the Lib Dems called on the government to do more to prevent the extradition.

The 43-year-old is accused of hacking into US military computers in 2001/02.

Denies malice

Authorities in the US say Mr McKinnon accessed 97 government computers belonging to organisations such as the US Navy and Nasa.

They also claim he caused damage costing $800,000 (£487,000).

Mr McKinnon, who has Asperger's Syndrome, admits hacking, but says his actions were not malicious or damaging, and he was actually looking for information on UFOs.

He could face 60 years or more in prison if convicted.

Last week, he lost his latest appeal against extradition when two High Court judges ruled it was "a lawful and proportionate response" to his offence.

For Peter Hain to stand up and talk from the heart was so refreshing
Janis Sharp
Gary McKinnon's mother

Mr Hain told the Mail the law was "just following its course," but said he "would have preferred it if I had been in the position to have a say on this".

"We could then have had a position where it could have been assessed in a British context - after all, he was sitting in his bedroom by a computer, as a kind of computer geek zapping the American defence system and therefore he was committing an offence on British soil," he said.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson said last week Mr McKinnon was accused of "serious crimes... immediately following the 9/11 attacks".

But Mr McKinnon's mother told GMTV: "I was so upset when the home secretary spoke about 9/11, spoke about the people who died and mentioned Gary's name.

"It was almost like he was trying to incriminate him in some way, so for Peter Hain to stand up and talk from the heart was so refreshing."

Leading lawyers

Mr Johnson has said it would be illegal for him to intervene in Mr McKinnon's case, but the Lib Dems claim he does have the power to do so.

Welsh Secretary Peter Hain
Peter Hain described Mr McKinnon as 'a computer geek'

Home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: "Now that leading lawyers have made it clear that they believe Alan Johnson has the power to stop the extradition of Gary McKinnon, the Home Office can't persist with its claim that he is powerless to act.

"Even Cabinet ministers like Peter Hain are concerned about the home secretary's claim.

"The Home Office must now publish the legal advice on which he is making this claim or find a different set of lawyers."

Lawyers for Mr McKinnon say his Asperger's Syndrome means the stress of extradition could result in psychosis and suicide.

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