A mother who tried to take her three children to an Islamic State-controlled area of Syria placed them at “extreme risk of very, very significant harm, if not death”, a judge has ruled.
Justice Keehan said he was “entirely satisfied” by Leicester City Council’s claims that the children – aged 11, eight and five – faced probable radicalisation and being drawn into a war zone when their mother took them to Birmingham Airport in July 2015 to embark on the first leg of the journey to Syria.
He granted final care orders for all the children to live with the mother’s parents, where they had been living since August 2015. The mother did not actively oppose the care orders but would not consent to them.
The mother, whose phone showed she had contacted an Islamic State fighter hundreds of times, was arrested after the family checked in for a flight to Munich.
She planned to travel from Germany to Istanbul where she had booked three nights’ accommodation with the children’s father – who is understood to have been living in Chechnya with a terrorist group since 2013. From there she intended to cross into Syria.
After the mother’s arrest, the children were immediately removed under a police protection order and placed in foster care. A week later they moved in with the grandparents. The judge accepted evidence that this was a loving environment where the children had excellent care.
In his judgment (delivered in January but just published), Justice Keehan said the significant harm threshold was met and agreed that the care orders were in the children’s best interests. He found “ample” evidence to support Leicester Council’s claim that the mother intended for the family to live in Islamic State permanently.
Her luggage contained an itinerary with the actual travel plans, telephone numbers of suspected Islamic State fighters, and photos of children with firearms and wearing balaclavas with Islamic State emblems on a phone.
A search of the family home by police and a social worker after the attempted flight indicated it had “in effect been abandoned” – many items relating to the children had been destroyed or disposed of.
The judge also backed the council’s claim that her “intention to cross into Syria was driven by religious ideology and placed the children at risk of suffering significant harm and probable radicalisation, including the real possibility of the children being drawn into the war, and being placed at risk of death”.
Justice Keehan also accepted evidence that the parents’ relationship was “characterised by domestic abuse” and so the mother’s plan for the family to live with the father meant the children would be at risk of ongoing exposure to domestic abuse and emotional harm.
While the three children wanted to “go home to their mother”, Justice Keehan said the risk of harm meant their wishes and feelings were not in their own best interests.
The mother did not seek a specific contact order so the judge left it to the local authority to decide appropriate arrangements for contact “from time to time”.