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Local authority failed to prove a family move to Syria

Unnamed local authority failed to make a case that a family was trying to move their children to Syria

A local authority “wholly failed” to make a case that a family had abandoned their homes to take their children to live in an area of Syria controlled by Islamic state, Sir James Munby has said.

In a recent judgement, the president of the family courts said that the unnamed local authority “wholly failed to make good any case that any of MY1, FY2 or MY2 was adherent to, a supporter of, or subject to any ideological belief system that could possibly explain a desire to re-locate to Syria”.

“Indeed, the local authority, as we have seen, hardly attempted to make good its case on this point except on the basis that if it was proved that the family intended to go to Syria then an extremist motivation could be inferred,” said Munby.

The local authority, he added, was unable to establish the pre-existing mindset of the family as the evidential foundation for its case that the family intended to go to Syria.

On 27 March 2015 three adults referred to as MY1, FY2, MY2 and the four children left the UK and flew to Turkey. On 1 April 2015, they were detained by the Turkish authorities close to the border with that part of Syria controlled by ISIS. On 3 April 2015, local authority B, made an order making two of the children Y1 and Y2 wards of a court and a separate order for Y3 and Y4.

The three adults and the children returned to this country in the early hours of 15 April 2015. The three adults were arrested and remained in custody until 18 April 2015. In accordance with the orders made, the children were placed in two separate foster placements.

The local authority argued that the adults made plans and travelled to and across Turkey with the intention of entering an ISIS controlled war zone with their respective children, putting them at risk of physical and emotional harm. They made complex travel arrangements in an effort to conceal their intention to enter Syria and they lied about their travel plans in order to conceal their intention to enter the ISIS controlled Syrian war zone. They made practical arrangements prior to their departure demonstrating their intention to leave their homes permanently and enter / move to Syria, the authority claimed.

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.

In its final written submissions, the local authority makes 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.”

The local authority accepted however that whether [the ideological influence motivating the family] was to join ISIS, or some other religious, political, or other organisation involved in the conflict in Syria, or indeed for another, ideologically driven purpose, [it] cannot say.

Lawyers for the family claimed 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”.

If the children suffered emotional harm in consequence of their experiences of, and after, being detained by the Turkish authorities, it was considerably less than that which they experienced as a result of being separated from their parents upon their return to this country, the lawyers added.

However, Sir James Munby said that the evidence given by the adults was “not merely unreliable; it was untruthful – and that goes for all three of the adults”.

“All this brings me back to the question: in sofar as they were telling lies, why were they doing so? The answer is that I do not know, but it is, in my judgment, a distinct possibility that lying behind the lies was a combination of fear, well-founded or not, as to the inferences that might (would) be drawn if they once admitted having travelled to Reyhanli and then even further east and a feeling that, having come up with a story, however improbable, it was better stick to it,” said the judge.

“The truth of course may be that the local authority’s case is right, but it has not persuaded me, even on a balance of probabilities, that it is,” he added.

The local authority conceded that the proceedings against the family should be dismissed following the judgement.


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