Council loses bid to prove plot to take children to Syria

A Free Syrian Army soldier stands on a damaged Syrian military tank in front of a damaged mosque, which were destroyed during fighting with government forces Image copyright AP
Image caption Syria's descent into civil war began with anti-government protests in 2011

A local authority has lost its legal bid to prove that adult members of an extended family intended to take four children to live in war-torn Syria.

Sir James Munby, president of the High Court's Family Division, said he had not been persuaded by the "central core of its case against any of the adults".

He also said a significant part of the adults' evidence was "untruthful".

The council had taken action to remove the children from their parents because of fears they were in danger.

Neither parties in the case can be identified for legal reasons.

Sir James said the family's explanation that they were "on holiday" near Turkey's border with Syria before they were intercepted was "not credible".

"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 said.

"Neither the local authority's arguments nor the family's lies and evasions suffice to make good the local authority's case."

Wards of court

The case involves a brother and sister, aged 12 and under, and two brothers aged four and under to whom they are related.

In March 2015 the three adults involved travelled to Turkey with the children, first to Antalya and then to Adana. They were detained by the Turkish authorities close to the border with a part of Syria controlled by so-called Islamic State.

The children were made wards of court at the local authority's request.

When the family members returned to the UK, the adults were arrested and held in custody for three days while the children were placed with foster carers until later returned to their parents' care after safeguards, including electronic tagging, were imposed.

The local authority argued there was evidence that the adults had intended to leave their UK homes permanently and had lied about their plans.

But the judge said it was "very significant" that the local authority accepted it could not say that the motivation for the journey was to join the so-called Islamic State group, or some other religious or political organisation.

A large part of the evidence against the family members came from the police and involved what was found when various properties were searched, including a document entitled "Muslims Will Not Compromise on the Khilafah".

A hard drive found at one home contained images relating to a Syria Winter Crisis Appeal and another showed four men being hanged from a crane.

But the police considered the material was not necessarily supportive of extremism likely to lead to terrorism, said the judge.

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