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A Local Authority v T and Others [2016] EWFC 30

Date:29 JUL 2016
Third slide
Law Reporter

(Family Court, Russell J, 24 May 2016)

Public law children – Radicalisation – Child taken to Syria by mother – Mother convicted of terrorism offences – Whether the child had suffered emotional harm and/or was at risk of emotional or physical harm

The local authority allegations against the mother were made out.

In 2014 the mother travelled with the, now 2-year-old, child to Syria where they lived with members of Daesh/ISIS for 3 months. While there photographs had been taken of the child with him posing with weapons as propaganda for ISIS. Upon her return to Turkey she was placed in a detention centre and once back in the UK she was charged with terrorism offences. The child was removed from her care by police upon their return. She had since been convicted and received a 6-year prison sentence.

Care proceedings were initiated in relation to the child and the local authority sought findings against the mother. It alleged that the mother had placed the child at risk of significant physical and emotional harm and that he experienced emotional harm while living in Syria. The mother expressly accepted that the factual basis of her conviction included many of the facts set out in the local authority's threshold document and that there was a risk of serious physical and emotional harm to the child but she did not accept that he suffered any actual harm as a result of her actions. She wished for the child to be cared for by the paternal grandmother during her sentence of imprisonment.

During the hearing the court heard evidence about the mother’s stay in Syria including messages from her social media accounts which indicated regular bombings where they were staying and her fear of the situation.

The mother’s evidence was a brazen attempt to deny her membership of Daesh/ISIS. The impact of being in the environment of the Daesh household on the child would have been emotionally harmful, and her evidence to the contrary was wholly unconvincing. The local authority case was made out.

This judgement was delivered in private. The judge has given permission for this version of the judgement to be published on condition that (irrespective of what is contained in the judgement) in any published version of the judgement the anonymity of the children and members of their family must be strictly preserved. All persons, including representatives of the media, must ensure that this condition is strictly complied with. Failure to do so will be a contempt of court. 

Case No: BM15C00041

Neutral Citation Number: [2016] EWFC 30

Sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice
AND IN THE MATTER OF Y (A Child) (Born 22nd August 2013)

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 24/05/2016



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A local authority


1st Respondent


2nd Respondent


Y (A Child)
3rd Respondent 

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Deirdre Fottrell QC and Dermot Casey (instructed by A City Council) for the Local authority 
Elizabeth Isaacs QC and Patrick Wainwright (instructed by Solicitors) for the 1st Respondent
Ms Sparrow and Nick Brown (instructed by Solicitors) for the 2nd Respondent
Richard Hadley and Kirsty Gallacher (instructed by Solicitors) for the 3rd Respondent child
(By his Children’s Guardian)

Hearing dates: 15th to 25th February and 14th March 2016 


Approved and redacted judgement

This judgement was redacted from a full anonymised judgement which was handed down on 24th May 2016 which was delivered in private. The redactions are to protect the identity of persons (in particular other children) referred to in the judgement who were not party to or subjects of these proceedings.

The Honourable Ms Justice Russell DBE:


[1]  This is a judgement deciding issues of fact and welfare concerning a little boy who was born on 22nd August 2013 and is now two and three quarter years. He was removed by the police from his mother’s care when she arrived back in the UK from Syria in early 2015 and she was arrested by officers of the Counter Terrorism Unit. He was the subject of protective measures for 18th February 2015 when taken from his mother by the police. He has been the subject of an interim care order since 20th February 2015. At first he was placed with foster carers then moved and placed with another foster family in June 2015 and there was some delay in the local authority carrying out assessments.

[2]  Y’s mother (T) is in prison serving a six-year sentence following her convictions for intentionally encouraging acts of terrorism and being a member of a terrorist organisation (Daesh).

[3]  The March hearing was principally concerned with welfare. The conviction of T for terrorism offence led to a curtailment of that part of the trial which had been set aside for consideration of her “radicalisation”, the extent of her support for Daesh/ISIS, her encouragement of others to participate in terrorism and the harmful effects on Y of being taken to Syria by his mother.

[4]  The issue is the harm suffered or likely to have been suffered by Y when taken to Syria by his mother when she set out to join Daesh and took him with her to an area of Syria controlled by Daesh.

[5]  Y’s mother has made it clear that she would want to be reunited with Y on her release from prison and the judgement that I make now is not about the order for his placement now (as there is no dispute about that) but will have relevance regarding any decisions about Y that may have to be made in future. The decision that I am making is not intended to provide for reunification with his mother at some unspecified date in the future.

[6]  The local authority sought finding in respect of M (Y’s father) in respect of his behaviour towards another child. The child was not subjects of these proceedings. The findings sought by the local authority were proved for reasons set out in the full judgement handed down in private on the 24th May 2016. M’s conduct was taken into account by the court as part of its consideration of Y’s welfare.

The background: Syria 

[7]  Y’s parents, T and M, were never legally married, although the court was told they had an “Islamic marriage” there was no documentary evidence before the court of the date and place of this marriage but it was said to have taken place on 28th July 2011. M said he has “married” both T and another woman in this way and appears to have had a casual approach to his commitments to his partners and to his children from the evidence he gave to this court. He has another daughter by a third woman. T cited M travelling to Yemen shortly after their relationship ended, which effectively left her alone with their son, as part of her motivation for travelling to Syria to join Daesh and start a new life there.

[8]  T and M lived together from February 2011 until they separated in July 2014. T complained of domestic abuse and the police were called on several occasions during the time that they were co-habiting. T complained of M’s drinking alcohol and using cannabis and because of his behaviour they separated in February 2014 and “divorced” on 4th April 2014. There is no evidence of the divorce before the court. Prior to their separation they had, according to T, planned to go to Yemen, and it would seem that M went to Yemen himself in 2014 from June for a period of at least three months, having told T that he was to be there for three weeks.

[9]  In his first statement M (dated 3rd March 2015) denied drinking alcohol to excess at all. He failed to mention his use of cannabis and from the analysis made of his hair samples during these proceedings it became apparent that he is a heavy user of cannabis. This evidence was not challenged. It is in that same statement that M betrays his cavalier attitude to his son and his son’s mother; saying that he had become “a little bit annoyed that she was wanting to know my whereabouts and what I was doing all the time. I was happy that [Y] was safe with her and said that she did not need to know all of my movements and what I was doing and when I was doing it if we were no longer in a relationship. Looking back on it perhaps this was a little petty as she could have just been wanting to know when I was back as this could be when [Y] could see me.”

[10]  It was submitted on behalf of the applicant local authority that following her conviction for offences under anti-terrorism legislation, T was no longer in a position to contest many of the findings sought by the applicant in relation to the risk of harm to Y when he was taken to Turkey and then to Syria.

[11]  T travelled with Y to Turkey on 20th October 2014, from there she travelled to Syria, on the 23rd October and remained in Raqqa until around the 7th January 2015 when she left and returned to Turkey. In Turkey they were held in a detention centre until they were deported to the UK in February 2015.

[12]  T filed statements with the court in March 2015, July 2015 and a final statement of 15th February 2016. In these statements she purported to give a detailed account of her journey to Syria, her stay in Raqqa and her flight from Syria back to Turkey, however she retracted much of what she had said in her first two statements and accepted that they were full of lies. T gave oral evidence but it was and remains unclear from both her written and oral evidence to this court what went on in Syria. In her written evidence she did not accept that she “lost sight completely of [Y’s] basic need for physical and emotional safety although I do accept that I exposed him to extreme danger at times during the period arising for the need to escape from IS.”
Conviction for terrorism offences

[13]  T was convicted on 1st February 2016 at Birmingham Crown Court. The jury found the prosecution case proved that T had been in touch with a known terrorist and was a supporter of ISIS; developing a following on Twitter. T was found to have published statements that encouraged terrorism; images that supported Daesh/ISIS and were intended to encourage people to commit, prepare or instigate acts of terrorism.

[14]  T was found to have travelled to Syria via Turkey, in order to travel without arousing suspicion. She had had the assistance of a named member of Daesh and as a result was transported to Raqqa in Syria which is a Daesh/ISIS stronghold; Daesh had declared a caliphate in Raqqa. She had left letters for her family saying that she did not intend to return. In the sentencing remarks of the Recorder of Birmingham, His Honour Judge Melbourne Inman QC, said “Exactly what occurred in Raqqa is far from clear. You told lie after lie to the Police and to the Court between February and November 2015 including that you were kidnapped, were not responsible for any tweets and any incriminating photographs were staged against your will. You pleaded not guilty and told more lies to the jury which they have understandably rejected.”

[15]  The judge continued, “What is clear from the evidence is that you had researched and were well aware of what assistance women could provide for ISIS. Your role would not be to fight; it would be to be a wife and mother – to produce the next generation of fighters”. The expert evidence before the Crown Court was to the effect that women, single women in particular, were subject to very strict rules and allowed virtually no personal autonomy and were subject to savage penalties, including death, for disobedience. This was accepted by T in her evidence before this court.

[16]  As could be seen from the pictures posted by T she was, as the judge said, “…trusted to have access to firearms and indeed you stated that you had fired one accidentally. You boasted to your family that you had an AK47 and a pistol. The photographs recovered from your phone show you posing with a pistol and at least one form of rifle or automatic weapon”. Unusually for a woman under Daesh control T was allowed to travel alone to Raqqa, it is not clear from the evidence before this court or the Crown Court why this was allowed but T has said that she was married to a fighter.

[17]  In the sentencing remarks the judge spoke of the fact that T had taken Y with her; “Most alarmingly however is the fact that you took your son and how he was used. In your own evidence you described Raqqa as the most dangerous place on earth. That is one aspect of the aggravating feature of exposing your son to life with terrorists. The most abhorrent photographs however were those taken of your son wearing a balaclava with an ISIS logo and specifically the photograph of your son, no more than a toddler, standing next to an AK47 under a title which translated from the Arabic means ‘Father of the British Jihad’. Someone else took that photograph and sent it to you but it can only have been done with your agreement. You have no control over that image or reproduction.”

[18]  As the judge observed T was “well aware that the future to which you had subjected your son was very likely to be indoctrination and thereafter life as a terrorist fighter”: this was said after a lengthy criminal trial throughout which he had been able to observe her demeanour. The judge continued in his summing up to say “Having seen you give evidence I saw no evidence of remorse about what you had done or done to your son”.

[19]  T was found to have intended to encourage terrorism; she had 75 followers on Twitter, the statements she posted were considered to have been focussed, published over a period of two months and concerned with the conflict in Syria and the encouragement of terrorism. The promotion of terrorism via the internet is considered a matter of national concern by the criminal courts. T was found guilty of serious offences. She was convicted of a “course of conduct” in travelling to Syria, via Turkey, to join Daesh. The judge considered that particular factors were of great significance in considering culpability and harm and that taking Y with her was a major aggravating feature. In supporting Daesh/ISIS she had been “willing shamelessly to allow your son to be photographed in terms [or poses] that could only be taken as a fighter of the future.”

[20]  In mitigation it was accepted that T had returned to the UK; that she may have been more vulnerable to recruitment as her marriage had ended after considerable unhappiness; and, that there was the possibility that she had had a change of heart; there was some reduction in her overall sentence as a result. Nonetheless T was convicted of terrorism offences and the sentence of six years reflects their seriousness. She is now subject to an order under the Counter Terrorism Act 2008 (s 47) which places a requirement on her to notify the police of personal details, including her address for 15 years.

[21]  T will be eligible for release on licence in 2018. She agreed to Y being cared for by his paternal grandmother while she is in prison but it would seem likely that she will seek to have him returned to her care on her release.

Local authority’s case in respect of T: s 31 threshold 

[22]  Once they had had all the police evidence disclosed to them the local authority prepared a document (dated 30th November 2015) particularising the nature of the risk of physical and emotional harm to Y arising out of his mother’s actions. It is their case was that T placed Y in at risk of significant harm, both physical and emotional; and that this was a high level risk which was immediately present from the time she entered Syria on or around 23rd October 2014. The child was placed at risk of death or serious injury. I do not intend to reproduce that document here but it is to be appended to the judgement in anonymised form and I shall make an order to that effect.

[23]  The local authority submitted that following from her conviction, that it was not open to the mother to dispute the findings sought at paragraphs 10 (i) –(x) of their document which particularised how Y was placed at risk of grave physical and emotional harm when travelling to and from Syria and while in Raqqa; in addition as a direct result of her actions Y was held in a detention centre in Turkey (where he became ill and was admitted to hospital for treatment) and was removed from her care by the police as soon as they landed in the UK.

[24]  The local authority asserted that Y would have been likely to have been frightened by the bombing which took place in Raqqa (which T sent WhatsApp messages about at the time) which would have caused Y to suffer significant emotional harm. T denied that Y had suffered significant emotional harm.


[25]  Before considering the facts of this case and the evidence in this case I shall set out the law to be applied. There has been little if any argument about the legal framework. The local authority seek a finding that Y has been caused significant emotional harm by being taken to Syria and living there, albeit for a matter of months only, in conditions that were confined and restricted, fraught with physical danger and fear, and that he was the subject of manipulation; specifically, that his image was used when he was posed in pictures taken of him. As a matter of law the local authority brings this case and it is for them to prove their case to the requisite standard, the balance of probabilities.

[26]  I reiterate, the burden of proof lies with the Local Authority and in respect of T much of what they seek to prove regarding T’s support for Daesh/ISIS has been the subject of a criminal trial, the resulting convictions have led to her accepting that much of the local authority’s case is made out. T has expressly accepted that the factual basis of her very recent conviction included many of the facts set out in the local authority’s threshold document and that there was a risk of serious physical and emotional harm to Y but she does do accept that Y suffered any actual harm as a result of her actions.

[27]  Applying the law of estoppel, the doctrine of res judicata the default position as regards a criminal conviction (even in public law proceedings where there is a limitation on the application of the doctrine issue estoppel) will be taken as evidence of the underlying facts. In this case T had pleaded not guilty and there was a full trial of the facts, unlike in Re W (Care Proceedings) [2008] EWHC 1188 (Fam) where following Re B (Children Act Proceedings) (Issue Estoppel) [1997] 1 FLR 285, McFarlane J (as he then was) re-opened factual issues behind a guilty plea and the individual’s capacity at the time he pleaded guilty. There are no such issues here and they were not argued by Ms Elizabeth Isaacs QC counsel for T. The fact that I am asked to decide is whether Y suffered any significant emotional harm as a result of being taken to Raqqa by his mother.

[28]  The standard of proof is the balance of probabilities, as set out by the House of Lords in Re B (Care Proceeding: Standard of Proof) [2008] 2 FLR 141.

[29]  I remind myself of the words of Lord Justice Munby (as he then was) has said in Re A (A child) (Fact Finding Hearing: Speculation) [2011] EWCA Civ. 12: "It is an elementary proposition that findings of fact must be based on evidence, including inferences that can properly be drawn from the evidence and not on suspicion or speculation".

[30]  Suspicion and speculation about any lies that I find were told by the witnesses, in particular the parties themselves, cannot and must not form part of my analysis and decision making. With reference to lies I refer to the direction that I must keep in mind from R v Lucas [1981] QB 720 namely that people lie for many reasons, not all of which are easily discernible, and that the fact that they have lied does not mean that it follows that they are responsible for the act or acts alleged.

[31]  In this case I have taken into account all the evidence before me and consider each piece of evidence in context of all the other evidence as a whole. As Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, President observed in Re U, Re B (Serious Injuries: Standard of Proof) [2004] EWCA Civ. 567 the court "invariably surveys a wide canvas". A point further amplified by her in Re T [2004] 2 FLR 838 at paragraph [33]:

"Evidence cannot be evaluated and assessed in separate compartments. A judge in these difficult cases must have regard to the relevance of each piece of evidence to the other evidence and to exercise an overview of the totality of the evidence in order to come to the conclusion of whether the case put forward by the Local Authority has been made out to the appropriate standard of proof."

[32]  I shall consider the evidence of each witness in its totality within the context of all the evidence before this court.

[33]  In respect of any harm suffered by Y as a result of being in Syria I shall consider the evidence of the social workers who have worked with Y and his family, the doctor who examined him when he first arrived back in the UK, his mother and his father.

The hearing and evidence

[34 The case and evidence brought by the local authority against T was heard first and the case against M followed on within the same hearing in February 2016. T gave her evidence via video link from prison; because of the nature of her convictions there would have been additional security in place had she attended the Royal Courts of Justice particularly as she was taken through public areas. The governor of the prison in which she is held requested of the court that she attended the trial by video link and, while not ideal, the court acceded to the governor’s request; this was not contested by her representatives.

[35]  It had two particular consequences; the court’s ability to assess T’s oral evidence was inevitably affected by the variable quality of the video –link and I keep this in mind. The second was that T and her counsel had conferences in court which will have been recorded; they are of course privileged. The court will order that none of those conversations are to be transcribed without an order of the court.

Travel to Syria

[36]  When T took Y to Syria she did so intending to join Daesh as part of the war against the Syrian state; at best she was reckless as to the safety and well-being of her son. The court heard oral evidence from her that Raqqa was bombed and she had pictures in her possession of the results of bombing with smoke rising from nearby buildings. She accepted that she and the other women and children in the house she and Y were living in were affected by the bombing had had to seek shelter; she was, she said, panicked, frightened and scared. She thought she might be killed and Y too. I shall return to this evidence below.

[37]  There was some evidence before the court that on his return, and subsequently, Y displayed signs of having been emotionally disturbed; his language and his ability to communicate were noticeably delayed and he has shown a marked and persistent interest in guns and “shooting people.” The court heard from his social worker about this and from the doctor who undertook the initial child protection examination in February 2015. T denies that he suffered any ill –effects as a result of being in Syria and it is her case that any distress he may have a displayed since he returned to the UK was as a result of being removed from her care.

[38]  It is the local authority’s case that T’s evidence about why she travelled to Syria was confused and that she had given ‘wholly contradictory’ evidence about whether she had planned to go to Syria and or to join Isis. This is certainly true of her written evidence, her first two statements had so much removed from them by way of retraction that they ceased to be coherent and the narrative that remained was piecemeal at best. Much of what she had retracted was not dealt with later in her oral evidence; thus she had given a wholly factious (on her own account) description of how she had met a man on a beach in Turkey who had inveigled her into travelling to Syria. The man did not exist and the meeting was a lie, but she did not tell this court who had helped her or why she had gone to Syria.

[39]  In her last statement (16th February 2016) she accepted that she planned to go to Syria a plan but it was not part of her plan to join Isis. Not only is this wholly at odds with her conviction (T has been convicted of being a member of a terrorist organization, namely ISIS) it is not tenable to claim as she did in her oral evidence that “I went to live in the Islamic State, not ISIS” as she had chosen to travel to Raqqa, an area known and accepted to be under the control of Daesh. Her denial of any plan to join Daesh is further contradicted by the evidence before this court and the Crown Court (evidence that was accepted by the jury and not the subject of challenge before this court) of her planning and preparation before she left the UK to go to Syria via Turkey. This evidence included ‘goodbye’ letters she wrote to her family saying “if you are reading this then I am long gone and you are clearing out the house” and in WhatsApp conversations with friends in December 2014 she told one friend she had decided to leave and go to Syria after she had been attacked by M “then I made up my mind 100%’ to leave…it wasn’t cuz of him but he helped my decision”. To another later that month “I cant believe I just upped n went but honestly best change ever x…it was planned for a while…”

[40]  In her oral evidence T told me that she did not think about Y being killed or injured before she went to Syria but once she was there “it was in my face I knew I had to get him out of there”.

[41 While it may well be true that reality struck home once she was in Raqqa, her total disregard for her son’s safety in travelling to Syria and in joining Daesh was and is reprehensible and it is highly unlikely that she was not aware of the danger she and Y would be in if only in the abstract; nonetheless she took the decision to travel to Syria with him. She, and she alone, placed him at risk of great physical danger and even death. In what Ms Deirdre Fottrell QC, counsel for the local authority, describes as distorted thinking, T apparently sought to assert that she had saved the child (Y) by returning to the UK but did not acknowledge that it was she who placed him at risk in the first place. It is axiomatic that the risk of harm to Y was foreseeable and clear that, at best, T chose to ignore it. It is more likely that she deliberately disregarded it as part of given her own plans to join Daesh.

[42]  In her statement, and in her oral evidence T sought to try and maintain that she had had “an error of judgement” and had joined Daesh in Syria almost by mistake, principally in reaction to her unhappiness at the breakdown of her relationship, and because she had been seduced by the portrayal of life in Syria by other women online. There is a considerable disparity between the evidence (not least in the many messages sent by T both before she went to Turkey and from Syria itself) which formed the basis of her criminal conviction, her action in going there in the first place and the way in which she has sought to portray herself as an innocent victim of propaganda in her oral evidence to this court. It was not at all convincing.

In Syria and findings in relation to T and Y

[43]  In her oral evidence T repeatedly tried to minimize the risk of harm both to her and to Z or to accept that it had been foreseeable. She sought to emphasise the lack of autonomy she had once she was in Raqqa. As a result her evidence about her time in Syria was riddled with contradictions as she sought to persuade the court that she was a helpless and unwilling participant in the Daesh household while, at the same time, accepting that she was something of a celebrity because of the coverage that her situation had attracted in the media. This was part of her attempt to deflect any acceptance or recognition of how it was her actions that led directly to the risk of actual physical and emotional harm to the child.

[44]  In her oral evidence she told me that it was shortly after she and Y arrived in Raqqa she realized she was unable to leave, having discussed leaving with another member of the household. T said that Daesh fighters were patrolling the area and they would probably have prevented her from leaving. She said that she had wanted to leave Raqqa within the first few days of being there as “I have never lived where I don’t have freedom”. T said, however, that she was scared to leave as she “knew it was punishable by death or lashings” and that she was threatened by the ‘Saudi woman’ who ran the house. T told me she was frightened and “tearful at night, I was scared about what would happen”. As she admitted to crying at night, and as she claimed that Y was always with her and in her care, her evidence that she exhibited her own fear and distress in this way meant that Y would have seen, heard or been aware of her fear; it is not credible to claim, as T tried to, that Y would not have been affected by it, still less that he was unaware of his mother’s distress. It was striking that although T referred to her own fear for herself and her own safety she did not, at any time, reflect on or acknowledge how her own anxiety, fear and distress must have had an impact on Y or how fearful he must have been as a result. There was a conspicuous lack of empathy for Y in her oral evidence.

[45]  As to the pictures taken of Y, T not only attempted dismiss their significance as a propaganda tool for Daesh she tried to claim both that the picture had been faked and it was taken without her knowledge. This was a further contradiction in her evidence as she said she had always been with Y and cared for him. This latter claim forms the basis of her case that the child did not suffer any harm while in Syria, the implication being that as he was always with his mother he could not have suffered in any way. T went on, however, to say that Y had not been present when she had been photographing other women posing with guns. It cannot be true that he simultaneously never left her side but was not there when she took those pictures and that she was not there when pictures were taken of Y.

[46]  It is a matter of common sense that Y was likely to have suffered significant emotional and psychological harm during the three months when he was in Raqqa and that it would have been as a consequence of living in conditions where, not only was his mother in fear and crying during the night, but the house they lived in was in an area that was constantly being attacked and bombed. Before I go on to consider the evidence of the frequency of the bombing, the lack of any real concern displayed or voiced by T that Y might have been affected by his experience is, in itself, worrying. If she remains unable or unwilling to think about the effects of her actions in the future, the risk of future harm to Y will remain.

[47]  The evidence before this court was that the level of bombing was very frequent indeed, this is based on T’s oral evidence and on what she put in her messages on WhatsApp, where it (the bombing) was a constant topic of discussion and a regular occurrence. I set out some examples here:

  • On the 1st December 2014 on WhatsApp “no bombs today” and images of buildings on fire. 
  • On the 13th December 2014 in conversation with her brother on “They do bomb a lot but we will stay in another place when you visit…”
  • On the 17th December messages with a friend “Do they bomb close to your house?” T answers; “Yes very close to the house – the house shakes” and “they just bomb from the sky”. 
  • On the 25th December 2014 at 10.58 from T “they bomb my house every day - - my house shakes…”
  • On 25th December 2014 conversation with her friend who asks “why won’t I like it” – “because too much bombs and not like England – war here never going to end???”
  • On the 27th December from T “they bombed once today – gave number to friend if we die she will WhatsApp u”
  • On the 30th December 2015 a message from M referred to “30 bombs” falling in one day
  • When she was interviewed by the police on 19th February 2015 T is recorded as saying “it’s no place for a child…. when they would bomb we would have to go into the basement – you could see the smoke – close smoke …”

[48]  In her oral evidence, however, T tried to minimize the frequency, impact and close proximity of the bombing giving a different picture from the one that had emerged from the messages she had sent in December, including of the house shaking and of bombing being every day (so much so that it was remarked on when there was no bombing on 1st December 2014). The images on her phone and the messages she sent are of frequent bombing close to the house, and as she said to the police, of close, smoking buildings.

[49]  In her oral evidence T said that on the first occasion, when they were in Raqqa, that bombing took place “everyone was ordered to go to another place in the house…we went to the basement and waited…” T said she was “panicked” felt “frightened and scared” and was worried she would be killed. Y was with her while all this was going on; it is inconceivable that her fear and panic was not transmitted to him. She said “All the women had gone to this place and we stood together and there were looks of fear, some were crying. Everyone walked to a basement and waited in fear”

[50]  T then tried to minimise the event she had been describing by saying that there had been no immediate panic and that there was a lot of women who were quite content to die as they would have been seen as martyrs. In a further attempt to diminish the dangerousness of their situation she said, when questioned about an image on her phone of a building with a large column of smoke coming from it taken on 1st January 2015, that the building was not on fire it was just smoke and that the building “looked closer than it was.” To try to reduce the evidence of frequent bombings she said that on occasion they would hear a bang in the distance. As she also said that “on one occasion there was 30 bombs” dropped, this was a further contradiction in her evidence which raised questions as to her credibility. It was her evidence that while she and Y were in Raqqa there were about 15 occasions altogether when bombs were dropped, this contradicts the messages she was sending at the time. Nonetheless she did concede that; “It’s not a place for anybody …I would never want my family there.”

[51]  When she was asked during her oral evidence about the effects of the bombing on the children T said that Y would not have been aware of the bombing or upset because “we just distracted them [the children]”. She had and gave no further explanation of how they had distracted the children or why she felt sure or understood Y to have been unaffected by the bombs going off, the noise, the building shaking and the panic and fear surrounding him.

[52]  I find it very unlikely that Y, or any of the children, could have been unaware of the bombing. I find it unlikely that he was not upset by it; it is simply not credible. In reality T’s oral evidence amounted to further evidence of a chronic lack of insight, empathy and understanding of what her child must have gone through. T said of Y that “he never cries, on one occasion it startled him but [he] never cried. It made him jump once”. This was in stark contrast to her evidence about the effects on her; when 30 bombs fell she said that the missiles “sounded like when a firework goes off…its very scary…the most scared I have been in my life.” Moreover, I find that it is most unlikely that Y did not wake up and that he stayed asleep as bombs fell all night and the house shook around them as T suggested in her evidence to me.

[53]  When she returned to the UK from Syria T said that she had continued to be affected by her experiences “when I first came back a loud bang would make me think what is that!” She went on to agree, when it was put to her, that the bombing did make Y jump and that he was “probably scared”. I find that it is more likely than not that Y was frightened by the bombing in Raqqa. When taken as a whole it is T’s own evidence that she, and therefore Y too, had lived in situation of heightened anxiety and fear, which was also experienced by the other families and children around them. This must have had an emotional impact on Y that was harmful, exposed as he was to frequent bombing, noise, anxiety and the panicked reaction of the other children and their mothers; and, most significantly, given his tender years, the fear and anxiety of his own mother. He was present when, as she told me, she was fearful for her own life. I have little doubt that he suffered emotional harm as a result.

[54]  The emotional harm would have been compounded by the fact that his mother had taken him away from all that was safe and familiar to him, and from the rest of his family. T severed those relationships and placed him in what was, on her own account, a harsh, restrictive and punitive atmosphere where he was kept imprisoned in a house full of total strangers. It would be quite remarkable if he was unaffected psychologically. T has never given any evidence, description or detail of how she manged to ameliorate this situation to the extent that Y remained unaffected; at the very least he would have suffered harm as a result of being taken away from home, family and safe and familiar surroundings; when one adds the bombing, fear, panic, restriction and threatening atmosphere along with the effects of fear on his mother it is not credible to suggest that he did not suffer significant emotional harm.

[55]  I find on the evidence before me that there was frequent, if not daily, bombing close to the house; so that on occasions the house shook and that the bombing resulted in damage to other buildings that were close enough to be photographed on a phone. The bombing meant that the other people in the house, adults and children alike, were repeatedly panicked, scared and anxious, that Y, too, would have been frightened at the time of the bombing and that afterwards he would have been anxious about it all happening again. He would have been worried, anxious, distressed and frightened by his mother’s fear and panic. I find that Y was emotionally and psychologically harmed as a direct result of his experiences in Syria.

[56]  The flight from Syria as described by T must have been a frightening experience for Y, she certainly found it to be so. Later in the detention centre in Turkey, surrounded by yet more strangers, he became ill and was hospitalised. The court was given no details of his illness and treatment by his mother, in what can only be a further attempt to minimise or deflect attention from the effects of her actions on her very young son.

[57]  Y would have been confused and probably caused some anxiety and distress as a result of being photographed in a number of poses which are potentially abusive as they were taken with the intent of promoting violence and terrorism. His image was posted under the title “Abu Jihad Al Britani” next to an AK47 which had been arranged with a caption; it can only have been taken with the purpose of reproducing his image to use as propaganda. There are five images of Y wearing a Daesh logo balaclava and a further three images of Y wearing a Daesh balaclava in the court bundle. There are also images of Y and his mother under a Daesh flag; on the 27th December 2014 T sent a message to a friend asking that they “send me the pictures of me and Zaeem by the flag at Umm Salama maqar.”

[58]  While the fact that Y was only two years old means that he will not have fully appreciated the potentially exploitative and abusive nature of the photographs it does not alter the fact that his mother manipulated him or allowed others to do so. I accept the local authority’s case that there remains risk of emotional harm when the child becomes aware of these images in the future and of his mother’s role in their production.

[59]  I find that T was well aware of the use that such images could be put and was aware of the use of children as part of Daesh propaganda as she had stored an image on her own phone of a very young child reading with Daesh flag. T’s explanations in her evidence for the photographs were confused and evasive. T had told me that she had something of a celebrity status in the house in Raqqa because of the activity she had been party to online before leaving the UK and because of the notoriety her case had attracted in the media when members of her family had spoken about her after she left. She attempted to deny knowledge of the pictures such as the “Abu Jihad” photo she said to me “I have no knowledge of this picture…. I didn’t know this photo existed…” She tried to suggest that the picture was a fake by saying, “If there was an expert to tell me this is a real picture…” When she was asked what use the photo may be put to she said “it was never used” thus contradicting her assertion that she did not know of its existence. When it was pointed out to her that she said Y was always in her care and so no-one could have taken pictures of Y without her knowledge the best explanation she could come up with was, “I could have been in the shower…”

[60]  T’s evidence about the other pictures was equally unconvincing; she said that those in which Y was wearing the ISIS balaclava had happened because it “it belonged to the man of the house….at the time my son liked to wear hats and things on his head at that time. It was not about what it had written on it”. Once again she betrayed in her evidence an absence of any concern or consideration about the potential harm to her son. T claimed, somewhat bizarrely, that the picture taken under the flag was “to show where I was from.” T claimed that she did not think the person who had it would use it for propaganda. As T had both notoriety and “celebrity” status that it was a wholly disingenuous suggestion.

[61]  From the pictures taken in the house in Raqqa and from T’s evidence Y had been living in an environment where there were a range of guns and where those weapons were used and brandished by his mother and others. Self-evidently the risk of physical harm or even death is high in such a situation. The court had before it numerous images of T and others with guns, including images of T next to a firearm, images of T and other women posing with guns on the balcony. In one such picture there is an image of a child in the foreground which is more likely than not to be Y. There were numerous images of T and other women posing with guns. On the 1st December 2014 she sent a message to M “I have a gun” followed by 11 images of a gun in which a female hand is seen holding the gun and that person is wearing a garment in which T was frequently photographed. On 17th December T sent a WhatsApp message to M “– Wallah I have the same gun as you – AK 47”. Despite telling M in the WhatsApp conversation she had a gun she then claimed in her oral evidence never to have owned a gun; she then said all people involved in Daesh have a gun and said that the “man of the house” and his wife had a gun but could not explain how she came to be holding it in a photograph.

[62]  T told me in respect of a picture of her with an AK 47 “I’m not holding it in this picture…I am taking a selfie and the person next to me is trying to get me to hold the gun”. To say that T’s evidence in respect of this and other pictures lacked credibility would be to understate the case, her oral evidence is directly contradicted by the images in the court bundles which were also seen by the jury in the Crown Court. In one instance T claimed that she had taken a picture of a woman holding a gun rather than accept that she was the woman in the image herself. She had frequently said that Y was not present while insisting in her evidence that Y was always with her and then, finally, said, “not sure if Y would know what a gun is”. The evidence of the social worker is that Y is all too aware of what a gun is and becomes over-excited by the suggestion of guns and shooting, and runs around mimicking shooting and makes noises of gunfire.

[63]  T’s evidence regarding the pictures, their use and the role of Daesh “logo” is a brazen attempt to deny something that she is well aware of; when she gave evidence to this court she had not long been convicted of being a member of Daesh/ISIS and of encouraging terrorism (as set out above). The impact of being in the environment of the Daesh household on Y would have been emotionally harmful, and her evidence to the contrary is wholly unconvincing.

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Order the 2022 edition