Safe World for Women Logo


Janis Sharp: "The bottom fell out of my world"

"I was terrified, really terrified. It still feels unreal.
You wouldn't believe it in a film-script.
But ultimately, I do have faith in human nature."

Interview with Janis Sharp, by Chris Crowstaff. 

March 2010

Janis Sharp is fighting her son's threatened extradition to the USA.
If extradited, Gary McKinnon - who has Aspergers Syndrome - faces spending the rest of his life in a secure prison.
In between the never-ending emails and phone calls on Gary's behalf, wedding anniversary, and a CNN interview, Janis found time to do an interview with Safe World.
I asked how she's been feeling over these last eight years, how she copes, and her hopes...

How did you feel, when you first realised what had happened?

"In March, 2002, Gary phoned me from the police station. He’d been woken in the night and taken there. It was a complete shock.

Gary has Aspergers Syndrome. I knew he'd been investigating UFOs and spent a lot of time on his computer, in his own world. But I was speechless to learn that he'd got access to the Pentagon from his dial-up connection.

Garry told me at the time that they said it could mean six months in an open prison.

But I was terrified, really terrified. The bottom fell out of my world.

"Gary just wanted to be home again"

They kept him at the police station for eight hours. They were also holding his girlfriend and they threatened to bring his cousin in too. Gary just wanted to get home again and so he made his statement without a solicitor and signed it too, even though he couldn't read their transcript of it.

I've now seen the full statement for the first time, just recently. The writing is almost illegible."

Has it been a constant nightmare ever since?

"At the time, I at least thought the US government wouldn't want it to come out; they'd be too embarrassed. There weren't even any firewalls or passwords. I imagined that if we kept a low profile, it would pass.

For the next three years, it was quiet. I felt reasonably hopeful because Gary was allowed to continue to use the internet during that time. They would never have allowed that if they'd viewed him as a real threat.

"My world feels out of control. It's very very frightening"

Then, in 2005, the extradition treaty was introduced. In the new treaty, suspicions and allegations are treated as facts. No evidence is needed. There is also no 'out' clause, for mental or physical illness or anything. Gary was arrested again and some of the ‘facts’ relating to his case seemed to have changed too - twisted over the years.

gary_mckinnonNow I've finally seen the full version of Gary's initial statement, I feel even angrier because when extracts are taken out of context it reads differently. It's very obvious from the full version that, when Gary made and signed the statement, he just wanted to go home. They were taking advantage of the situation and putting words in his mouth. Repeating things over and over, so that eventually terms and names started to sound familiar, and so at last he said they sounded familiar, which of course was true after eight hours of listening to them.

Moreover, the full version of Gary's statement was subsequently edited by home secretary and parts have been refered to out of context.

I used to feel in control of my world. Now my life feels out of my control. I’m not able to control external events, which feels very, very frightening."

How is Gary?

"If Gary stayed in the UK, he’d be in an open prison. In the States, he would be in a secure prison with the most violent hardened criminals, because the US sees UK citizens as a ‘flight risk’. It would kill him. He wouldn’t cope.

Gary's mental health is deteriorating under the strain. With Aspergers, intelligence masks the feelings and the fears. You escape into your head. He did start meditating for a while, which helped. But he more easily gets paranoid now. He does things he didn't used to do.

"We always new Gary was different."

When Garry was young, Aspergers wasn’t recognised or talked about; but we always knew he was different. When he was 10, he went and bought a book on body-language, and we wondered why. But it was because he was having difficulty relating to people, understanding them. He wouldn’t go out.
As a small child, he was afraid to go on the bus or the tube with us; but the doctors were no help then, and brushed it off.

After the arrest, Gary was diagnosed with Aspergers by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen. It really helped me, to have an understanding of his condition. It explained so much. However, A lot came out then which we hadn’t known about, such as Garry being suicidal in his teens."

How do you cope?

"I do have an inner strength which I draw on. I have no religion. Religion seems to cause wars. I do have a spirituality. I don’t use the word ‘God’, but deep down I have faith in the universe. I believe in the power of positive thought.
Before it all happened, I had a profound dream that I was on a stage with men in suits, fighting ego. It feels like now that’s happening.

I see this as a fight for justice, a coming together of the force for good. But it feels so unreal. If you saw this written in a script you wouldn’t believe it.

"I'm continuously finding out how many good people there are"

The powers-that-be in the States are paranoid. Not the American people, but a minority who call the shots. The majority of people in the States still don't know about Gary's case and those that do seem to be sympathetic.

I am continuously finding out how many good people there are. Cross-party politicians even come out as well. Even the police are mostly supportive. It feels like there is really only a very small minority of people who are demanding Gary's extradition. Even so, Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems are the only political party who have categorically stated that they wouldn't extradite Garry if they were in power.

I want to fight the whole extradition ruling. I feel really sorry for 67-year-old Ian Norris and his wife. My heart goes out to them. I think he’s been extradited now. He’ll also be in a secure prison. His charge is not even a criminal offence in the UK.
Mr Norris is incontinent because he had bowel cancer and he needs constant care."

Do you have personal support? Is there a team of you fighting?

"Gary’s an only child. He has half-brothers in Scotland and we’re all on very good terms.

It’s just me who’s leading the fight. Gary can’t fight. Gary’s father, in Scotland, is terrified for Gary, but they’re a long way away. My husband Wilson is hugely supportive too.

"I'm fed up with sitting at my computer all day, writing emails"

People imagine there’s a huge team of us. But it’s mainly just me, sitting at home at my computer all day long, writing emails. I’m fed up with my computer. I hate sitting at my computer all day.

What did you used to do, before all this happened?

Wilson & I used to foster children who were in emergency situations. So we lived from day-to-day. We didn’t plan. It horrified me what some of these children had been through. The long-term impact it leaves on them is soul-destroying. I just can't understand or imagine how and why people can get any pleasure from abusing children. I once spent thousands of pounds fighting to defend two abused children.

"Gary didn't even tell his friends about his songs"

We also made a film, Lunar Girl, for which Gary wrote and sang songs; but at the time he didn’t even tell his friends he’d done it! It was shown several times by the BBC. We loved making the film and the music."

What's the next milestone for Gary's future and what can people do to help?

"25th/26th May is the next hearing. This is to determine Gary’s mental health and to establish whether extradition would be illegal on the grounds of mental health.

It’s hard to know what to say when people ask what they can do to help. We are releasing 99 balloons, as part of the campaign. It was going to be 500, but it’s very hard to get permission if you’re an individual and not an organisation. 99 balloons, however, is symbolic. The song, Ninety-nine Red Balloons, was about balloons being mistaken for UFOs – about wrong interpretation of the facts. Which is extremely relevant to Gary’s situation."

"Why are they making an example of my son Gary?"

I don't really understand what's going on. I've been told that, in fact, this is not the first time someone has done something like Gary did.

US broadcaster and investigator, Jerry Pippin, says Gary shouldn’t be treated like a fugitive and that cyber-crimes should not be treated as though the person had physically travelled. Gary’s never even been to the USA.

No-one has ever been extradited before, anywhere in the world, for cyber-crimes.

Why are they so keen to make an example of Gary? I just don't understand. I just want Gary to have his life back."

Supporters of Gary Mckinnon:

The Campaign to halt Gary's extradition has been supported by a growing number of people as well asorganisations such as the National Autistic Society and Liberty. There is regular support for Gary on Twitter and multiple Facebook groups and web forums. Online polls consistently show that the public do not believe he should be extradited.

Gary is backed by a wide number of cross-party politicians, here in the UK:

David Cameron MP, Nick Clegg MP, Chris Grayling MP, Chris Huhne MP, James Brokenshire MP, David Burrowes MP, Mayor Boris Johnson, Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP, Keith Vaz MP, Charles Kennedy MP, Sir Menzies Campbell MP, Kate Hoey MP, David Blunkett MP, Andrew MacKinley MP, Lord Carlile QC, Vince Cable MP, Simon Hughes MP, Norman Baker MP Tim Loughton MP, Peter Kilfoyle MP, Lord Morris of Manchester, Lord Clement-Jones of Clapham, Alan Simpson MP, Tom Watson MP.

Other supporters include:

Sarah Brown, Trudie Styler, Sting, David Gilmour, Julie Christie, Peter Gabriel, Keith Duffey, Emma Nobel, Terry Waite CBE, Tony Benn, Nick Hornby, Barry Norman, Jilly Cooper, Trevor Baylis, Dr Dawn Heather, Professor Baron-Cohen, Nadine Stavonina, Peter Howson, Dr. Liz Nelson OBE, Richard Madeley, Jonathan Ross, Stephen Fry & Duncan Bannatyne.

Gary and the USA

Sadly, Gary is still ignored by the US media and the US public largely remain ignorant of his case.

If you can help raise awareness in the United States, it could make all the difference.

Gary McKinnon has an autism spectrum disorder; he needs to be saved from the clutches of American injustice.

Barack Hussein Obama continues the extradition of Gary McKinnon, despite testimony of Autism Specialists, a former NASA prosecutor, and members of the current British government.

Obama's version of the war on terror is extradition of someone with a developmental disability.

Shortly after Omaba's inauguration, Janis wrote the following to him:

Dear President Obama,

I have taken this opportunity to ask you to consider granting a pardon to my son Gary McKinnon who has Aspergers Syndrome which is a form of Autism.. There are 60 million people with autism around the world. Many are struggling to cope with life.

Autism Sunday falls on 8th February 2009 and Campaigners from the United States of America and others parts of the world have called on you, President Obama to speak up for autism on Autism Sunday. My gentle immature son Gary was accused of hacking into Pentagon computers more than seven years ago and the last seven years have been a nightmare for our entire family and this has been a sentence in itself.

Every day I am gripped by fear at the prospect of my gentle Aspergic son being extradited from his home in the United Kingdom and being sent to a hardline United States prison full of violent criminals, as I know he would not survive there. Gary never travels and does not leave the U.K as he has always had a phobia about venturing far from his home.

Gary has just been granted a Judicial Review, to take place in Mid March 2009 Should you be compassionate enough to grant my son a pardon, this official act would be remembered as one of compassion towards Autistic people; an act that would save a gentle Autistic person from further suffering. My son’s case is regularly in the media spotlight and he has a great deal of support throughout Britain, America and the world.

The National Autistic Society has come on board to intervene legally as a third party on Gary’s behalf. The Liberal Political Party have come out in support of Gary, led by MEP Baroness Sarah Ludford. Many Labour, Liberal and Conservatives Politicians in Parliament have called for Gary to be shown compassion and leniency . The actor Dan Ackroyd supports Gary and has the same UFO obsession.

Gary's obsession was UFO's and this obsession is what led to him being in the trouble he's in now. The World famous British artist Peter Howson, favoured by several US and UK artists such as Madonna (who has bought several of his paintings) and David Bowie who has done likewise, also supports Gary. Peter Howson also has Aspergers Syndrome and has painted several portraits of Gary which he intends to auction on Autism day in support of Aspergers/Autism charities.

Gary has no criminal record and is a gentle Human Being, caught up in an obsessional search for information on UFO’s /Aliens and Free Energy. It’s true that he left cheeky notes on Pentagon computers saying that their security was awful and accusing them of all sorts of things because Gary believed in some of the conspiracy theories that he had read about. Gary is not a genius, he is a vulnerable young man that got out of his depth.

On his arrest in the U.K in 2002, without having engaged a lawyer Gary admitted computer misuse via his dial up connection. He was told by the High Tech crime unit that they had his internet activity under surveillance and that at no time had they observed Gary sending commands or codes that would cause damage to any computers and that Gary would most likely receive a sentence of six months community service order rather than a custodial sentence.

However although Gary never left the U.K he was indicted in America in 2002 and a warrant was issued for his arrest. In 2002 but we heard nothing more until mid 2005 when he was re-arrested. This wrecked our lives as we had assumed, because of the lengthy delay , that charges against Gary would be dropped.

I am appealing to you to Pardon my gentle, misguided son, as an act of compassion that will show Justice and will let people across the world see that you care about people with disabilities and Autism. Cathedrals, churches and religious organisations are due to observe Autism Sunday - the International Day of Prayer for Autism and Asperger's Syndrome. Organisers say this is the first major date for Autism in 2009 and have stated that it is an ideal opportunity to lobby for all people with Autism and Asperger's Syndrome.

The global economic crisis has placed enormous burdens on parents, careers, children and adults with Autism and Asperger's Syndrome. Many more families with Autism are below the poverty line and even in the United States and the United Kingdom, banks have re-possessed the homes of families with Autism, leaving them stranded.

Autism campaigners are calling for more help for the vulnerable during the deepening global recession. Some families are suffering as a result of winter fuel poverty and often have to choose between heating and eating.

You, President Obama, have promised change and I understand you have been urged to support the vulnerable by speaking out on Autism to mark Autism Sunday 2009. There are 60 million people with Autism around the world. Many are struggling to cope with life. The very people within these churches and also the Autistic community and parents of disabled children throughout the world, would be moved by this single compassionate act towards one vulnerable Autistic young man with Asperger's Syndrome.

Your very early days in office have ben positive and this would be on more positive act which would highlight your compassion for the vulnerable in society. Please consider this act of kindness which will help to highlight the daily struggles that people with Aspergers Syndrome /Autism face.

Yours Sincerely,

Janis Sharp
(Gary McKinnon's Mum)



Follow Janis on Twitter: @JanisSharp