America Comment Opinion & Features

Britain, America and a desperate tragedy

Radd Seiger, a family adviser, addresses the media on behalf of Harry Dunn’s parents Tim Dunn (right) and Charlotte Charles after a Foreign Office meeting (Getty)

Mrs Anne Sacoolas has been the object of some criticism in this country ever since it was disclosed that her car was involved in a head-on collision with a motorbike ridden by 19-year-old Harry Dunn, while she was allegedly driving on the wrong side of the road.  

Harry died, and his mother and father have been seeking ever since to extradite Mrs Sacoolas from the United States to face police procedures. 

Anne Sacoolas herself showed compassion to the teenager as he lay dying, and seemed willing to face the consequences. But higher powers intervened (she is the wife of a US diplomat) and she was whisked back to America. Harry’s family still hope that justice may prevail and she may come back to Britain – not so that they can be vengeful towards Mrs Sacoolas, but because it is morally right that individuals should face the consequences of their actions. 

Naturally, our sympathies and sense of pity would first be with Harry’s family – his twin brother has been devastated by the fatality, which occurred in August. The family has every right to seek closure through the proper legal channels.  

Yet I would also feel very sorry for Anne Sacoolas; I can imagine the horrible, gut-wrenching moment of realisation that a seeming error of judgment, just a moment’s absent-mindedness, can take a life – and perhaps ruin a life, as well.  

How often have any of us made a stupid mistake – be it on the road or in any other sphere – but by the grace of God have escaped any serious consequences? How often, too, older people will look back on the course of their own lives and call to mind the errors, failings and missteps they made – and the consequences which did indeed follow from that original transgression?  

Whatever the legal outcome regarding Harry Dunn’s death, Anne Sacoolas will carry the weight of this event all her life. The teenager lost his life, and his family lost their son. But Mrs Sacoolas’s own life will also be marked, forever, by the tragedy. Those of us who have ever had a near-miss in similar – or aligned – situations should be thankful that we didn’t pay such a high price for a moment’s heedlessness.  

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“Get your nose out of that book – go out and get some fresh air instead!” my aunt used to scold me when I was a youngster. I wasn’t supposed to read in bed at night after 8.30, so I contrived more deceitful ways of doing so: by reading under the bedclothes by the light of a torch, or by squinting at books via a dim landing light.  

It became evident when I was around 12 that I was becoming short-sighted and would always need glasses. Myopia was categorised as a genetic trait, so it was suggested I was a throwback to some unfortunate short-sighted ancestor – no one else in the immediate family was bespectacled.  

But now, research by Dr Clare Quigley at Galway University Hospital reveals that children and young people can become short-sighted from too much reading and “nearwork” on screens. The International Myopia Institute in Australia supports the theory that too much poring over books and screens can turn a kid into a speccie-wearer.  

It seems my aunty was right after all – I should have been out in the fresh air rather than curled up with a book. 

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Prince Harry says that he cannot understand why anyone would deny the science around climate change. But it’s not the science we’re denying: it’s our everyday lifestyles that we need to alter. 

Here’s one suggestion for improving the environment: restore public water fountains, so that people can refill their water bottles instead of continually purchasing another one in plastic.  

Drinking fountains were once a common feature of public life, and much used. Then they disappeared, to be replaced by purchasable bottles of water.  

The only place I have seen drinking fountains reappear is, ironically, at Heathrow Airport, where air travellers now refill with water rather than buy more plastic.  

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PS An editing process last week made it seem as though I claimed that on the southern side of the Irish border, road signage was just in the Irish language. Road signage is in both Irish and English.  

Follow Mary Kenny on Twitter: @MaryKenny4