The mother of teenage motorcyclist Harry Dunn has said she feels “a lot more at peace” on the fourth anniversary of his death after fulfilling her promise to him to get justice.
Charlotte Charles told the PA news agency her anger with both the UK and US governments’ handling of the case “still bubbles”, but spoke of her pride as she said “they picked on the wrong family”.
Harry was 19 when a Volvo, driven on the wrong side of the road by US citizen Anne Sacoolas, smashed into him outside RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire in August 2019. Diplomatic immunity was asserted on behalf of Sacoolas by her employer, the US State Department, and she was able to leave the country 19 days after the fatal collision.
After a “relentless and tiring” campaign by Harry’s family, the 45-year-old appeared before a High Court judge at the Old Bailey via videolink where she pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving. Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb handed her an eight-month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months.
Asked how her family had been since the sentencing hearing, Mrs Charles told PA: “Up and down, very up and down. I think I can safely say that since December when justice was done, I’ve improved. I think my family have improved. We’ve started to try to figure out what life is actually about.
“I certainly feel stronger than I did before, but we’ve still got such a long way to go. There’s still many days where I literally won’t get out of bed, and I don’t want to see anybody and I don’t want to speak to anyone.”
Mrs Charles and her husband Bruce, alongside Harry’s father Tim Dunn and his partner Tracey, are set to mark the fourth anniversary of their son’s death by visiting Portland, Weymouth, where they scattered his ashes in 2020.
She said: “Hopefully this year we can smile a lot more and remember him much happier than we could last year because everything was still hanging over us. Because we’re more at peace we’ll be able to smile and talk about some of the silly times that Harry gave us I think. I feel a little bit more at peace.
“I feel that I can go and sit where we scattered Harry’s ashes and sit there with perhaps a bit more of a smile on my face than I certainly could last year – because last year I was still feeling like I needed to carry out that promise. So I was sat there feeling like, I’d still failed him in some sense. That’s gone. So I can definitely sit there over the weekend, especially on Sunday and feel that I’ve done my best for him.
“So that element has definitely dissipated this time, but the pain is still there. You live with it every day. But the anticipation sometimes towards these big anniversaries… Christmases and birthdays and Mother’s Day, they all hold just that little bit more significance because staring you in the face even more that someone’s missing. So yeah, the pain is still very much there. We’re still very much learning to live without him.”
Mrs Charles took her three-and-a-half-year campaign for justice to the US after Harry’s death, which even led to a meeting with then-president Donald Trump in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington DC.
She told PA: “I’ve certainly not even really considered how far reaching Harry really did get – into many minds of many people around the world. I think when you’re locked in your own little bubble, and certainly trying to start to go through the grieving process, it’s very easy to forget all of that because your pain just takes over.
“I think it’s still going take quite a long time but it’s certainly something we feel proud of and that’s that’s a good feeling.”
Reflecting on her part in the campaign, Mrs Charles continued: “Constant, absolutely constant. I just don’t think there was any let up. It didn’t stop almost for three-and-a-half years. I’ve still got no idea where any of us found the strength from.
“I’ve no idea how we kept going, but relentless and tiring doesn’t even touch it. so it’s only again now that you feel a little bit more vibrant. I think we are still getting over the three-and-a-half years of being constantly on the go.”
Despite the Dunn family eventually achieving justice in the form of remote court proceedings, Mrs Charles said anger was “still very much there”.
She told PA: “It still bubbles, unfortunately. It’s directed mainly at the US government – everything that they put us through. We should never have had to have fought for justice. That was the most ridiculous thing and hugest mistake I think they’ve ever made. They picked on the wrong family.
“The anger is still very much there. Unfortunately there’s some anger towards our UK government as well. I think they should have been a lot stronger in the first place and not bowed down and rolled over to what the US expected them to do.
“But it was what they were used to doing. I honestly don’t think they had the right tools in the box at the time to be able to stand up and fight for their own UK citizens. So yeah, there’s a lot of anger there, but we’re working on it.”
Mrs Charles said fulfilling her promise to her son to get justice was the thing that made her most proud throughout the past four years.
Asked how she felt now she had completed her promise to Harry, she said: “Extremely relieved – like I haven’t let him down. I can feel proud that the promise that I made wasn’t broken. I’ve never broken a promise to either of my boys and I didn’t want to start at at that point. So I do feel very proud and a lot more at peace.
“I can smile when I’m talking about it now instead of feeling that terror that perhaps I was never going to get there, even though I believed in my heart of hearts that we were always going to achieve it. It was never clear at times how long it was going to take.
“I’d have kept going for as long as I need it to keep going but the exhaustion does take over at times. I can feel like I’ve done everything I possibly could have done for him, and that is overwhelmingly peaceful. I don’t feel sick anymore. I don’t feel like I’ve got anything to be ashamed of anymore.”