The chief of the family courts has rejected a local authority’s claims that parents planned to take children to live in an area of Syria controlled by Islamic State, after lawyers for the family argued the case had been “incoherent”.
In a judgment following a fact finding hearing, Sir James Munby said the unnamed council had been unable to establish that the parents had a “pre-existing ideological mindset” to evidence its claim that the family had been radicalised and intended to go to Syria.
In its final submission the local authority had, he said, “made clear that its case on radicalisation is largely dependent upon whether or not the court accepts its initial case that the family was in fact in the process of crossing, or about to cross the Turkish/Syrian border into Syria”.
“It does not rely upon motive to establish intention; on the contrary, it relies upon intention to establish motive,” Munby said.
Holiday gone wrong
The family – including four children – were among a group detained by Turkish authorities in a military-controlled zone near the country’s border with Syria. Their lawyers claimed, though, that it was “more plausible that this was a family holiday which went wrong rather than.. some inexplicable attempt to travel to a war zone by an exceptionally capable and loving mother”.
Munby said the family’s explanation “at best push[es] credulity to its extremity and in truth, in my judgment, involves significant lying”.
The challenges involved in cases of suspected radicalisation will be addressed in a free one-hour Community Care webinar, at 11am on Monday 25 April, featuring three senior social workers with experience in this developing field of practice:
- Dr Tony Stanley, chief social worker, Birmingham Council
- Joanne Fisher, service director – prevention and early intervention, Luton Council
- Adele Penfold, service manager and operational lead on safeguarding and radicalisation, Luton Council.
Click here to register.
But he said the local authority “wholly failed” to make a case that a grandmother, father and mother were “adherent to, a supporter of, or subject to any ideological belief system that could possibly explain a desire to re-locate to Syria”.
Solicitors for the mother of two of the children said she was a “caring and attentive parent” and it was “inherently improbable that she would imperil her sons unless there was some powerful ideological driver operating upon her”.
Munby added: “But, they say, none has been established and the local authority’s case as to her and her husband’s reasons for migrating to Syria is, they assert, ‘incoherent’.”
Lack of evidence
Munby said the local authority lacked evidence that “loving and devoted parents” would be motivated to expose their children to the realities of life in Syria.
He said the family’s reason for lying could have been a combination of fear of what inferences might be drawn if they had admitted to travelling where they did, and the feeling that having come up with a story it was better to stick to it.
The hearing concerned a family for which two judgments had already been made. An interim care order for the four children who the local authority believed were being taken to live in Syria had already been discharged in favour of the children being made wards of court and electronic tags being placed on one of the mothers involved.
The local authority claimed that a brother of one of the adults, who travelled with the family, had made comments expressing support for Al-Qaeda and a desire to become a terrorist, while being treated as an in-patient for mental illness with psychotic symptoms; that the family were being harassed by other members of the extended family; that their homes appeared abandoned; and that the explanation of the trip as a holiday was not credible and proved the family wanted to travel to Syria to live permanently.
Munby said he didn’t know the truth behind why the family were close to the Syrian border, and that the local authority case could be correct, “but it has not persuaded me, even on a balance of probabilities, that it is”.
After the judgment, the local authority conceded that the proceedings against the family should be dismissed.