TVShack: The Human Cost of Extradition, a Mother’s Story

As part of Operation in Our Sites, in mid-2010 the US government seized the domain name of TVShack.net. The site was operated by 23-year-old UK-based student Richard O'Dwyer who is now subject to extradition proceedings. Today his mother speaks out, detailing the trauma the family is going through and asking that people help Richard by signing a petition in the hope that he can face justice at home, not thousands of miles away across the Atlantic.

As became clear during June, former TVShack.net operator Richard O’Dwyer is facing the fight of his life to stop his extradition to the United States for running a media linking site.

Today we hand over TorrentFreak to Julia O’Dwyer, Richard’s mother. Along with her story comes a request for people to support her son and their family in their battle to allow Richard to face justice, if any should be required, in his own country, not thousands of miles away in a foreign land where he has no support system and has committed no crime.

Even if you have no time to read the article right now, please skip to the end to sign the petition which urges Parliament to support Richard’s plea for UK justice.

The Human Cost of Extradition

Richard is a 23yr old Sheffield Hallam University student currently half way through a BSc (Hons) Interactive Media with Animation. Whilst Richard is 23yrs old I describe him at times as 23 going on 17 probably as many mothers would describe their sons! He is obsessive about his hobbies and interests usually ignoring the more mundane side of everyday life.

As part of Richard’s course he is learning to make websites. About 2-3 years ago as a personal project/hobby and to develop his skills, he designed a website where people could search and be directed elsewhere to links to films as well as documentaries and soaps which they could watch on line.

The website grew popular among his friends then through word of mouth became even more popular among young people unknown to him via the internet. A couple of US internet advertising firms approached Richard and asked if they could place their ads on the website, Richard agreed to this which soon made him some money and he was able to enhance his student lifestyle.

Last November the City of London Police called at Richard’s accommodation in Sheffield and took him for questioning about his website. Unknown initially to Richard at the time there were two American “ ICE” (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents present. During questioning Richard told them all about his website they took away his computer and bailed him to go to the Police Station on 23rd May, six months later.

As the ICE agents left they shook his hand and said “Don’t worry Richard you won’t be going to America”. Actually “going to America” had never entered Richard’s head! The same day Richard closed down the website himself.

On attending with Richard to answer bail in May this year when we expected he would either be charged or questioned further, he was told by the Police that the criminal investigation in the UK had been dropped. He was then told that he was going to be rearrested as they now had a Warrant for his Extradition to the US!

Immediately Richard was taken before a Judge at the Magistrates court, the whole court experience was traumatic with Richard being forced to spend the night in jail until I could sort out the bail conditions the next day. As a family we have never been exposed to this before and it was all a very unpleasant and frightening experience.

The extradition process with the US seems frighteningly speedy. I have researched on the Internet and have not seen any examples of extraditions to the US being refused. People are being sent there regardless of whether there is evidence against them and regardless of whether their case could be dealt with in the UK. This is due to a lopsided agreement between the UK/US whereby a UK citizen can be extradited to the US much more readily then a US citizen could be extradited to the UK. The US affords its citizens more protection from this than does the UK.

Schedule 13 of the Police and Justice Act 2006 (UK) contains provisions which would, if commenced, amend the Extradition Act 2003 to provide a further ground on which the Courts may refuse extradition. This would require the Courts to consider whether extradition is barred on the basis that a significant part of the conduct in respect of which extradition is sought occurred in the UK and that it would not be in the interest of justice for the offence in question to be tried in the state requesting extradition. This is called the ‘forum’ bar to extradition.

This amendment was considered to be of significant importance by both parties of the Coalition government when in opposition. However, the new power would not come into force unless and until the Home Secretary presented an order to Parliament. This urgently needs to be done before we see more UK young people being hauled from their bedrooms and Universities to the US.

Richard O'Dwyer

Richard has cooperated fully with the UK Police and was fully expecting that if he has committed any offence that this would be dealt with by the legal system in his own country. Now it seems likely that he could be sent to the US where he will have no means to obtain proper legal assistance and could be locked up awaiting trial which may take months, more likely years, if other cases I have read about are anything to
go by. At least if he were in the UK he would be allowed bail until a trial.

I am most concerned about Richard being in jail in America with no access to his family or friends. Given the current economic climate along with the distance it would not be feasible for anyone to be able to visit him if he were in jail in the US. The idea of having to spend around £1500 or more in air fares and hotels etc. in order to visit my son for one hour in a US jail is ridiculous and prohibitive. This is in total breach of his Human Rights, rights which other non – British subjects are afforded in the UK even some who have allegedly committed serious crimes

The effect of all this upon our family is immense. Richard is trying to carry on as normal with this hanging over him. Inside I know he is very frightened. His University are being supportive for which we are grateful. We have good support from Richard’s legal team and also from the UK media who have been excellent in their reporting and sensitive to the stress we are under.

From a personal perspective this trauma has totally taken over my life. I hold a responsible senior position as a Specialist Nurse for Terminally ill children. My job requires me to advise other professionals and parents regarding strong medications for children.

I need to concentrate on my job and to be able to function at a high level. Since this nightmare came into our family I have been unable to work due to being off sick due to the stress. My concentration and level of functioning have been greatly affected to the degree that I would not be safe to do my job. This has taken over, every day is spent searching the internet, reading about the law and extradition, contacting others who have been through this or who are going through this horror.

I feel as though I need to keep an eye on Richard constantly now to be aware of any changes in him psychologically as he is finding it hard to accept what could happen to him. I have to go with him to all of his legal appointments, read all the legal papers double checking everything and handle media enquiries. I have to advise him and confirm that he understands things. Extradition seems to us all overly disproportionate to any alleged offence.

The thought of having my only son taken thousands of miles away to face an unknown legal system and without being able to monitor what is happening or to be able to advocate for him fills me with terror. I only know what I read on the internet about the US judicial system and it doesn’t make good reading.

The Extradition process itself is an additional punishment meted out even before any legal proceedings are undertaken.

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Stop Extradition, Fair UK Trial for Richard O’Dwyer – Please sign the petition here and help spread Julia’s story so that news of Richard’s plight travels far and wide.

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