Trump Stuns Grieving Britons: Meet the Suspect in Your Son’s Death

LONDON — In an unrelenting quest for justice after their son was killed in a car crash and the driver who is a suspect in the case fled Britain for the United States, two Britons traveled all the way to the White House this week.

There, Charlotte Charles and Tim Dunn, the parents of Harry Dunn, 19, who was killed in the crash in August, met with President Trump on Tuesday. He had an unpleasant surprise for them, they later said.

Anne Sacoolas, 42, the wife of an American diplomat and the driver involved in the crash that killed their son, was in an adjacent room, waiting to meet them. The police in England said she had fled the country while claiming immunity. Britain and the United States have been involved in a diplomatic tug of war ever since.

Mr. Trump, a former reality television star well versed in the language of staging a spectacle for the cameras, had another surprise. Members of the White House press corps were in another room.

Apparently they were waiting to record any meeting between the grieving parents and the woman they had pleaded with in teary television interviews to return to Britain to face the police and to meet them so they could get answers.

“The bombshell was dropped not soon after we walked in the room,” Ms. Charles told reporters after the family’s 15-minute meeting with the president in Washington.

But the teenager’s parents, who said they would only meet Ms. Sacoolas when she returned to Britain, rejected Mr. Trump’s offer, saying that it felt “rushed” and that it would not have gone well.

“We would still love to meet with her,” Ms. Charles said, “but it has to be on our terms and on U.K. soil.” She added, “She needs to come back and face the justice system.”

Mark Stephens, a lawyer for the Dunn family, called the president’s surprise offer of a meeting “a gargantuan miscalculation.”

Mr. Stephens told the British broadcaster Sky News that the move was one of many mistakes in the case, including Ms. Sacoolas’s flight from Britain, “making her a fugitive from justice.” He added of the White House offer, “Bringing her in that way was just so wrong.”

In a further bewildering turn, the meeting between Mr. Trump and the Dunn family was attended by “the head of U.S. spying,” Mr. Stephens told reporters on Wednesday.

Mr. Stephens later said in a phone interview on Wednesday that he was referring to Robert C. O’Brien, the United States national security adviser.

“This O’Brien had effectively curated the idea that there would be a confrontation between the Dunns and Mrs. Sacoolas and that the press would film it,” Mr. Stephens added.

He added that while the president “left an olive branch on the table for a political solution,” Mr. O’Brien said that Ms. Sacoolas was “not going back under any circumstances.”

The White House and the British Foreign Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Apart from expressing anguish at the family’s loss through her lawyer, Ms. Sacoolas has not spoken out publicly about the crash that occurred on Aug. 27 in Brackley, a town in Northamptonshire about 60 miles northwest of London near a Royal Air Force base that hosts a United States Air Force communication station.

The Northamptonshire police said they suspected that Ms. Sacoolas had been driving on the wrong side of the road when her vehicle collided with a motorcycle ridden by Harry Dunn.

After the accident, the authorities said, Ms. Sacoolas told officers that she had no plans to travel abroad. But she abruptly left Britain, claiming diplomatic immunity and setting off an international uproar.

Britain made a formal request for a waiver of diplomatic immunity to the United States Embassy in London on Sept. 5. It was declined eight days later.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain said that he would appeal directly to Mr. Trump for Ms. Sacoolas’s return, and he raised the case in a phone call with the president last week, according to the prime minister’s office.

Mr. Trump expressed his condolences to Mr. Dunn’s family and “agreed to work together to find a way forward.” But there is no sign that American officials are going to budge and open the door to Ms. Sacoolas’s return to Britain.

Last week, Mr. Trump described the death as “a terrible accident,” adding that it was “a very, very complex issue because we’re talking about diplomatic immunity.” But he also expressed understanding for Ms. Sacoolas, suggesting that he had himself driven on the wrong side of the road in Britain.

“You know those are the opposite roads; that happens,” he said. “I won’t say it ever happened to me, but it did.”

Dominic Raab, Britain’s foreign secretary, said in a letter to the family on Saturday that diplomatic immunity for Ms. Sacoolas no longer applied to the case because she had returned to the United States.

“The U.K. Government’s position is that immunity, and therefore any question of waiver, is no longer relevant in Mrs. Sacoolas’s case, because she has returned home,” Mr. Raab said in the letter that was shared with The New York Times on Sunday.

“The U.S. have now informed us that they, too, consider that immunity is no longer pertinent,” Mr. Raab said, adding that the matter was now in the hands of the Northamptonshire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Ms. Sacoolas’s lawyer had contacted the family and asked for a meeting, Radd Seiger, a spokesman for the parents, said on Sunday.

Ms. Sacoolas was said to be “devastated by this tragic incident,” according to a statement made on her behalf by her lawyer, Amy Jeffress. “No loss compares to the death of a child and Anne extends her deepest sympathy to Harry Dunn’s family,” the statement said.

“It was an accident, we understand that,” a teary-eyed Ms. Charles told reporters in New York on Monday. “But seven weeks on and we’ve had to do this to get an apology, just in writing, that’s just wrong,” she said.

Despite being caught off guard by the president’s suggestion for an unplanned meeting with Ms. Sacoolas, Harry Dunn’s parents appeared sympathetic toward Mr. Trump after their meeting.

Ms. Charles said that the president was “very gracious” and “very welcoming,” and though the president did not suggest that Ms. Sacoolas would return to Britain, she said, he said he would now “push to look at this from a different angle.”

“I think he generally will look to try and resolve this in a way to help us,” Mr. Dunn told reporters.