A family with their three adult children and three minor children were stopped at Harwich port, we don’t know the reasons (but can probably guess). The father’s home was searched as a result and some significant things found as a result.
(The LA involved is not named to assist in anonymity, so please don’t assume that it is Leicester or Leicestershire because of the title of the post. You will see why I gave it that title later, be patient!)
The family’s version of events was that all of them were travelling to Holland, with the intention of visiting a children’s play park for the day, to sleep in their rented car overnight and travel back the next day. That made the authorities query why it was that the father had been to a camping store the day before, spending six hundred pounds. This was not a wealthy family.
One of the adult siblings gave evidence that the camping and outdoors equipment was for a later trip planned to Scotland, where they would be climbing mountains.
- Then there is B’s evidence about the equipment. She told me that the planned trip was to Scotland at Easter. The father had talked about his pleasure in going to Aviemore as a teenager. She appeared never to have heard of the Cairngorms when she was asked but perhaps that is not absolutely fatal to her case. More importantly, Aviemore is a ski resort, is at elevation, and there was likely to be still snow up there. To suggest that this family planned to sleep in a tent in potentially harsh weather conditions is absolutely fanciful. The father has diabetes and other health conditions. He needs to relieve himself frequently. B told me it was planned that she and the other children would go for long walks and climb a mountain. There was no suggestion as to what was going to happen to the father, and how he was going to keep up, or how the younger children would cope if they were tired or wet or cold. I may be wrong in having detected an inconsistency in B’s evidence as to whether or not they were intending to sleep in different camp sites taking their equipment with them, or whether they were going to stay at the same (unidentified) campsite every night and go for walks during the day. It is inconceivable that the father either would have subjected himself to such conditions or that he would have been left shivering in a tent whilst the family went on without him.
- I asked B whether she had ever climbed a mountain and she said she thought she had in Wales. She then said she had climbed one in Leicester recently. It had been very high and very steep. Leicester is an extremely flat part of the country. It is obvious to me that B was making up her evidence as she went along and I am quite satisfied that the Aviemore trip was a smokescreen. The family cannot even agree for when it was planned.
- I am satisfied that I have been told a series of untruths by the adults about the background to the Holland trip, what was intended, and the surrounding circumstances, and that in itself is probably one of the most important features of my findings
Indeed, Leicestershire is not known for its mountains. Taking my lead from the Hugh Grant movie, I have established that there is one summit in Leicestershire which squeaks into being classified as a mountain, being (just) over 2000 meters in height. Preparation for the Cairgorms it is not.
Perhaps the family were misinformed
Re Y children (findings as to radicalisation) 2018
- Radicalisation cases have only come to the forefront of the court’s attention during the last two and a half years, particularly since the escalation of troubles in the Middle East with the Syrian conflict and the rise of the Islamic State, called as well by various other different names. Radicalisation is not new.
- I stress that the courts see cases where religion is said to be harmfully impressed on children, or provides a harmful environment or lifestyle for them, as in cases of other religions as well. I have professional experience of childcare litigation concerning fundamentalist Christian sects and certain Hindu and Jewish groups, for example. I recognise also that the UK has not been immune from sectarian Christian violence both historically and recently.
- I repeat, as I have said to the parties, that not only do I realise how sensitive is this case, but how difficult are issues which concern freedom of thought, religion and expression; and personal autonomy. At the same time I have to look at s.31 of the Children Act in respect of care proceedings now presently in being in respect of the three index children. This case is about significant harm or the risk thereof and child welfare in respect of young people who cannot truly decide on their political and religious beliefs, and crucially, activities stemming therefrom.
The Judge heard evidence as to some of the matters found within the families purchases/packing, which was compared to the instruction list prepared by Isis and circulated to people who were intending to join up with them in Syria. In a peculiar set of circumstances, possession of this list is a criminal offence (don’t google the list, it will almost certainly flag you up with people / agencies you don’t want to be flagged up with), so even the Judge having temporary possession of it was potentially placing her in breach of the criminal law.
- There are a number of other matters which give rise to concern. They had an itinerary with them which Mr. Poole submits is written in stilted and unusual terms. It is not the kind of list of activities that one might expect to see, and has detail, particularly in relation to timings, which seems, objectively, unnecessary for this sort of trip. It is suggested that this is a kind of decoy document, intended to distract the authorities from the real purpose and to support the case that this was a weekend jaunt. Isis documentation online giving guidance about a planned journey to Syria via northern Europe suggests that such documentation might be useful and also suggests obtaining return tickets, so the existence of returns does not help. The father does not have very much money. The passports had been obtained in contemplation of this trip many months before, costing over £200. Yet the journey had not been booked. There are various other expenses, such as the ferry, which cost over £400. The suggestion is that this was a very unusually expensive trip to make for what was going to be just a day and a morning in Holland, for the purposes of a trip to the play park. The necessity or desirability of visiting that venue has not really been established.
- Further the father was unable to give a convincing reason for the presence of a Turkish phrase book in the property since the family had never been to Turkey. In the father’s house there was found a list signed with the signature of R and there was another list obtained made by B, headed “Things to get”. The day before the trip was made the father went to two branches of a camping shop, one in Area T and one in Area S, and spent over £600 on equipment. That equipment has considerable correspondence with a “suggested equipment list” in another document called “Hijrah (emigration) to the Islamic State”, emanating from supporters of Islamic State which is to be found online, the possession of which is a criminal offence. I have been given a copy of that document in the hope that I am not transgressing by its being in my possession. I have tried to protect the parties and they have accepted this by ensuring that the document’s copies are numbered and are retained, will be returned, and are viewed only within the courtroom.
For the same reasons, the Court has to be careful in stipulating the commonalities between the family’s camping shopping/packing for Holland and the Isis list.
The father was a member of a prescribed organisation, ALM and had involved the children in their activities
- I am satisfied on all the evidence that the father is closely associated with ALM. I accept that he was not charged along with those recently convicted. I accept that there is no evidence that he has spoken or written in public on its behalf. However he has supported it online, and it has a significant online presence which I accept is important for the promotion of its ideas. I do not know whether he is a member, I do not know whether one can be a member of an organisation such as ALM, I doubt very much whether it has a list of members, or whether it has a joining fee or anything of that kind. Z told me that the father is well known to the membership. He is not part of the management or governance insofar as there is one – the ‘inner echelons’ as it was termed in the hearing- and, therefore, not one of the decision makers, but he is intimately known within and loosely part of the organisation.
- Sub-question (b) is whether ALM is a proscribed organisation, which it is accepted it is.
- The next sub-question is “(c) Did the father take the children to inappropriate ALM demonstrations?” There were two particular demonstrations. He took J (then aged 9) and F (then aged 7) to one in 2009 in London attended by HA. The second was a demonstration outside the Pakistani Embassy after the Pakistan Army had become involved with students in “The Red Mosque” incident. I have seen photographs of the father standing next to HA, outside the Embassy with F and L. The two boys were holding a placard of which the father said he was not able to tell me the origin, which refers to the Pakistan Army as, essentially, “the devil”. There are other placards next to the boys. I note one, relevant to another issue, supporting the introduction of Sharia law for Pakistan, because, the father told me, the students in the Red Mosque had called for Sharia law in Pakistan.
- I recognise that some people take children on political demonstrations (although not usually to events where violence might be predicted) and persuade their children to carry placards. Sometimes children are too young even to take persuading, sometimes the placards are put in the child’s pram. It could be said that the children, who probably do not understand in the least the point of the demonstration, are being used in order to put over and support adult views, in a way which could be seen as manipulative and even abusive. I recognise that this is not in any way an activity which is limited to any particular social or religious group. What the father involved the boys in was not illegal, and as a one-off would have been unlikely to have led to any child welfare intervention. However, the demonstration was linked with ALM, and it was not appropriate, in my view, for the boys to be actively involved in such a demonstration or such an organisation, knowing the views expressed by members and the possible consequences of the expression of those views: a public disturbance over which the father had no control, or the expression of harmful views. The father said these were peaceful protests but he was not to know that they would be so. Most importantly it demonstrates the influences to which he has wished to or at least been prepared to expose the boys. It is part of the overall picture.
- The next sub -question therefore is (d),
- “Did the father expose the boys to harmful views at ALM- inspired talks and take them to talks given by individuals later convicted and/or charged with terrorism offences?”
- The father was an attendee at Da’wah (proselytization or outreach) stalls. These are booths displaying literature in public areas, and not confined to ALM. Z told me that from his knowledge someone who attended such a stall who showed a particular interest in extremist themes might, after several visits, be invited to attend an evening meeting, once a degree of familiarity and common ground had been established between the stall minder and the enquirer. That was how he had come to be invited to evening events. The father told me that all were welcome at the stalls, of whatever age or religion, men or women, and this demonstrated how innocuous they were. He also said that Z had been welcome when it was thought that he was genuine, but would not have been had it been known that he was an undercover policemen. The father could not explain why this would be, if there was nothing wrong with the stalls. Z told me, and I accept, that the Da’wah stall attended by the father, to which at one time he took the boys, linked with ALM. At one time he took the boys, but stopped doing so. Z does not know why he stopped taking the boys, but it was at about the time ALM had spread the news that supporters were at risk of care proceedings.
- I conclude that the stalls were used as recruitment tools where people were given literature supporting ALM’s aims, and tested out, from which they were drawn into the inner circle as and when it was thought appropriate.
- Photographs of the father with ALM affiliates have been recovered from telephones of those persons. I accept that the father attended other protests with London ALM affiliates with many senior associates.
- Z told me that the father had been to a number of meetings with the boys, probably about five, at a local church hall. These were small meetings, 30 people only, where theological matters were discussed. The father is devoutly religious and it seems to me to be well within the acceptable spectrum of behaviour for the children to go to meetings – even if they may not be terribly interested and may not actually understand what is going on – which may express views about religious practices, even though they may be of more interest to the adults than the children. Those attendances do not seem to me to be of serious significance in themselves, but ALM members, later convicted of terrorist offences were present, and the father could not have predicted exactly what views would be expressed. It is all part of a pattern.
The police also found a letter in the family home from Lee Rigby’s killer. If there’s an innocent reason to be in correspondence with him, I can’t think of it.
- Related also to this evidence and the conclusions that I have drawn is another reference to the killer of Lee Rigby, Michael Adebolajo. When the father’s home was first searched a letter was found from this gentleman from prison; whether it was an original or whether it was a copy does not matter. I suspect that, in the circumstances, it may very well have been a document made available to a number of people within this circle. It is a letter which is covered by r.39 of the Prison Regulations, which is intended to go to the legal representative. It is, in fact, quite a strongly worded letter making various strong comments about religious matters. It is both assertive and rambling and is quite closely written. It makes reference to a number of religious concepts, using a number of Arabic words, and also it makes various aggressive comments as to the role of various people in English political life, generally, and those who are connected with the Islamic religion. The father accepts that it was found in his house. He told RX that he did not know how he had come by it. He at first told me the same thing. Then he said that he had been given it, but could not remember who by. When asked again, he said that it had been a man. He could not remember who or the circumstances, just that he had been told or encouraged to read it. He said that he had not read it himself. He could not remember any conversation with the donor, such as, “Why are you giving this to me; what this is about; what am I going to get from this; what is its importance?” and so on. He cannot say why he kept this document, although he says that he did not read it and never gave it any thought afterwards. I do not accept this explanation. He must have known about the contents of and welcomed this letter in order to both have and retain it.
The police inspected all of the family’s electronic devices. (Which, by the way, is the common denominator between cases where the LA have been able to prove radicalisation and the ones where the electronic devices are not explored are the ones where findings don’t get made)
- Various photographs emerged from the search of the family devices. I have a number of separate photographs of the children and the father, dressed in what looks like Middle Eastern style red-and-white headgear, in the case of both the children and father, with their faces partly obscured by the cloth and holding what I am told are ornamental swords. The adult children said these had been purchased by the family as a set at a boot fair, or similar outlet, and to be ornamental only. The two younger children were very little when these photographs were taken and I suppose they may not have been aware of the significance, as it is asserted by Mr. Poole to be, of this style of dress. The father says also that this cannot be connected with Islamic State because it was not then in existence. Mr Poole submits that that this is a style of dress associated very much with Islamic fighters, and has been for some time, and that posing with weapons is very much a radicalised style. Mr. de Burgos accepts that this style of dress and presentation would be regarded, and rightly so, as extremely culturally offensive if worn at a fancy-dress show or party, as to many people’s eyes it will have very significant associations with terrorism and with politically and religiously motivated violence.
- I cannot go so far as to say that the photographs of the two younger children, in themselves, would have caused them harm at the time, but it is quite possible that viewing them online later as older children might have done so and have given them expectations as to how they are expected to behave, what beliefs they are supposed to have and how they are supposed to treat other people. There are pictures of the older children, including J, when much younger, also in similar poses, in similar attire and with similar weapons. There are pictures of A with a gun, which he says was taken when he was working on someone’s home and he simply asked whether he could pose with that particular gun, an air rifle, as a joke. There are photographs of the father with a BB gun, also in a very similar pose. These are strongly reminiscent of the poses in photographs of ALM members posted online, referred to above. There are photographs of other weapons, the significance of which, the family has not been able to explain. RX told me that he perceived a clear association with the graphic execution scenes online, and so, independently, do I.
- Some of the material found, particularly on R’s telephone, is very shocking and very disturbing indeed. It does not come from normal news sites. Father says that they might have come from Fox News, but I find it very difficult to imagine or to accept that heads in buckets, details of crucifixions, the process of execution, dead bodies and dead fighters showing, it is asserted, the joy with which they died, material relating to bombings, a man with a knife to his throat, execution quads, would be shown on normal news channels. It is not my experience of the mainstream press. I cannot say where this material came from, but the evidence that I had from RT, the technical expert relied on by the police, and his overall view, was that there had been a lot of internet searching for this kind of horrific image, particularly relating to the process of decapitation. There was particular footage, which has nothing to do with Islam or the Islamic State at all, which relates to horrors in South America. He told me that that was an indication of the kind of search that was going on and that someone in the home had had a pre-occupation with looking for this material. No-one in the family has been able to tell me who that might be. The father tells me, and I accept, of course, that, as a Muslim whose family emanates from South Asia, although via East Africa, he has an interest and a passionate commitment to finding out what is going on in the Islamic world and I quite understand that, but the material which has been downloaded does not fit with what the father told me about his focus of interest, or with the pre-occupation with terrorism, demonstrated also by books removed from the home.
(I mean, there’s a lot wrong with Fox News, but I don’t feel I can hold them responsible for this)
- I cannot say who in the family has downloaded this material, but it is most likely that it has been a number of them. There were images found not only on R’s phone and other material on other devices as well. There is a very strong theme of there being someone in this family, or perhaps more than one someone, who has an interest in painful things being done to other people. This is not just related to terrorism. I saw a video retrieved from one of the family phones of the youngest child, who must have been seven or eight, perhaps younger, it is difficult to see. It is footage, apparently, taken by J, the child who is now nearly 16, of her younger brother being made to eat a raw chilli by his older sister, R. The young people around him seem to be totally unconcerned about the pain which it is causing him and the distress that he is showing. Anyone who has inadvertently bitten into a piece of raw chilli in a meal knows that it causes intense pain to the mouth, a very sensitive area. There is laughing in the background. It is not just that this was done, and it is a wholly inappropriate form of punishment, but that it does not seem to have evoked any form of sympathy or empathy at all. RX suggested that this might have been a punishment for some kind of religious transgression, but I cannot say. I am, of course, conscious that children used to have their mouths washed out with soap for swearing in the old days and I appreciate that treatment of children, which we would regard now as barbaric, was considered to be appropriate in the past. Nonetheless, the combination of features, lack of feeling for the victim, group participation in this punishment and it being filmed, no doubt for some form of record or enjoyment, gives rise to a very uncomfortable feeling indeed. It chimes with my sensation that there a nastiness about some of the attitudes in this family.
- I am also very struck by the father’s reaction to the discovery of this material. According to the father he has scarcely asked R why she has had this material on the phone, and took some time to even state that he had. The point is made by Mr. de Burgos that she is an adult and is entitled to do what she wants, but I would have thought that the father would want to enquire as to why his daughter had such interests, particularly because he is a loving father and the children have always been closely tied to the home and also, obviously, feel a high degree of responsibility for him. He does not seem to have tackled this issue at all, and the most likely explanation is that access to these kinds of images and their sharing was part of the norm. Furthermore, he told me that his little son had never told him about the chilli incident. He had not spoken to R or, indeed, any of the other children about why the video had been taken or what had been going on, or why she had punished L in this way. If that is true, it shows at the least a remarkable derogation of parental responsibility and lack of interest in what has been happening. His lack of interest strongly suggests that this was a form of punishment that was part of the norm within this family.
- DS has told me that all the electronic devices in the family were open to all members of the family. The father said that they were password protected. RT told me that he overrode one password. I am not prepared to accept that the children did not have access to this kind of material. I cannot say for certain whether they had. There is no actual evidence that they did. It may be unlikely that they would try to break into password protected material, but it may have been very easily available.
- It is highly likely that the children were shown it. I say that in particular because, during the family’s Eid celebration, there is a video of the family in front of the cake and a particular film being shown on the television. There are photographs of the family living room decorated with the Black flag bearing the Arabic word ‘shahada’. The father says that this was just part of a continuous streaming through YouTube or music that he wanted to listen to. Whether that is so, I am not going to decide, but let us assume that it is. It showed the ISIS flag and a black-clad figure against a desert background. It is very similar to some of the photographs found online and a very obvious approbation of the ISIS regime. Pro-Caliphate speeches can be heard in the background. The flag, the father accepts, which pictures the seal of the Prophet, is, as far as he knows, and as any of us know, only used by ISIS and not by any other group. So although it may incorporate a perfectly acceptable and holy image, it has very obvious connotations if shown on the screen. The children seemed to me to be looking at the screen in the photograph. The father says they were interested in the cake, but this video was very obviously there, right in front of their faces, and available to be watched. The father says that he was not interested in the background; he was merely interested in the “Nasheed”, the religious songs which accompany it. I do not find that an acceptable explanation. At the very least, the father was extremely careless about what he exposed his children to, but it is far more likely that this was a form of entertainment which the family wanted to look at and was available to the younger children as well.
We learn even that during the care proceedings, the father was posting pro Islamic State material on his Twitter feed, which he claimed was in protest at the way the English Courts were treating him and his family.
In case you are wondering, the later judgment
Re Y Children Radicalisation 2018
shows that all three of the younger children were made the subjects of Care Orders and placed in care.