Clegg does U-turn on McKinnon extradition

In a dramatic U-turn, Nick Clegg yesterday said the Government may have no power to prevent the extradition of hacker Gary McKinnon to the US.

The Liberal Democrat leader's comments came in a radio interview on Five Live.

It's the first time Clegg has waded in on the case since becoming Deputy Prime Minister at the recent general election.

His comments came as a shock to supporters of the computer hacker, who had been heartened by the recent adjournment of extradition hearings.

Last week, Home Secretary Theresa May called a temporary halt to proceedings while she considers new medical evidence suggesting that Asperger's sufferer McKinnon, who broke into Pentagon and NASA computers looking for "little green men", will kill himself if forced to stand trial in the US.

Clegg's intervention also appears to completely reverse his position on the case.

While in opposition, Clegg had argued fiercely that ministers could use the Human Rights Act to halt McKinnon's extradition to the US, where he faces up to 60 years in jail.

"It is the basic duty of a Government to protect its citizens," Clegg said in July 2009. "It's completely within [then-Home Secretary Alan Johnson's] power to enact amendments… which would allow Gary McKinnon to be tried over here."

Conservative leader David Cameron, now the Prime Minister, also voice his support for McKinnon's campaign.

Now in Government, Clegg's position provided McKinnon's supporters with considerably less comfort: "What I haven't got power to do, neither has the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister, is to undo certain legal aspects of this. It's legally very complex. But on the morality and principle of it, I haven't changed my view one bit."

McKinnon's MP, Conservative David Burrowes, himself a former shadow justice minister, disagrees: "There is the power and I disagree with anyone from the Prime Minister down who says the Home Secretary cannot intervene."