(Family Court, Keehan J, 28 January 2016)
Public law children – Care orders – Mother caught attempting to remove children to war-torn Syria – Whether findings were made out – Whether the children were at risk of significant harm
Care orders were made in respect of three children whose mother had been caught attempting to travel to Syria to support ISIS activities.
 EWFC 20
IN THE LEICESTER COUNTY COURTNo. LE15C0082790
28 January 2016
B e f o r e:
MR JUSTICE KEEHAN
LEICESTER CITY COUNCIL
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MR JUSTICE KEEHAN
In this matter I am concerned with three children. M was born on the 18 November 2004. She is therefore eleven years of age. K was born on the 7 June 2007. He is eight years old. A, was born on the 1 August 2010, who is therefore five years of age. The mother of all three children is AT. Their father is DT.
This family came to the attention of the authorities on the 29 July 2015 when the mother was arrested at Birmingham Airport in the company of the three children. The Local Authority subsequently made applications for care orders in respect of all three children and on the 8 and 9 December I heard evidence at a fact finding hearing where I indicated my general findings, but reserved Judgment until this hearing today.
At this hearing the Local Authority seeks final care orders in respect of all three children. They are currently placed with the maternal grandparents where they have been since the 6 August of last year. The Children’s Guardian supports those orders, being satisfied that the placement is meeting the children’s needs and meets the risks identified in this case. The mother now, to her credit, does not oppose the children remaining with the maternal grandparents under the auspices of a care order, but understandably cannot bring herself to consent to the same. She does not seek any specific orders in relation to contact.The Law
When considering the aspects of the fact finding I remind myself that the burden of proof is upon the Local Authority. The standard of proof is the simple balance of probabilities, Re B
 UKHL 35.
In relation to the welfare aspects of the case I remind myself that the welfare best interests of the children are my paramount consideration. That is section 1(1) of the Children Act 1989. In considering what orders to make I have regard to the Welfare Check List of section 1(3) of the 1989 Act.
In relation to the threshold criteria of section 31(2) I have regard to whether I am satisfied the children have or are at risk of suffering significant harm.
In considering making care orders I have close regard to the Article 6 and Article 8 rights of the mother and of the children, but I remind myself that where there is tension between the Article 8 rights of the parent, on the one hand, and of the children, on the other, the rights of the children prevail. Yousef v The Netherlands
 1 FLR 210.The Background
The children were not known to professionals or to the Local Authority prior to the mother’s arrest save that there was a domestic violence referral in January 2010 and the father was arrested and charged with the murder of a Chechen national in December 2012. He was however acquitted of that charge following a trial at the Old Bailey. The father, DT, is believed to have left this jurisdiction in March 2013. It is understood that he is in Chechnya with a terrorist group.
On the 29 July 2015 the mother was arrested at Birmingham Airport having checked in nine suitcases on a flight to Munich. The mother’s initial account was that she and the children were taking a holiday to see their father in Munich from where they were to travel to France. Information however located in the mother’s luggage showed an itinerary which contradicted this and showed onward travel from Munich to Istanbul where she had booked three nights’ accommodation with the children and her husband.
Also found in the mother’s luggage, hidden in a Paracetamol tablet packet, were telephone numbers which, having been analysed by the police, were found to be Turkish and Indian numbers, one of which had been called some 234 times, that being the number of AS who is suspected to be fighting in Syria with the Islamic State. An initial examination of the mother’s mobile phone provided the police with sufficient evidence to arrest her with one message reading, “Are you going for good?”. The phone also contained images of children with firearms, and wearing balaclavas, bearing the emblem of “Islamic State of Iraq” and the emblem commonly known as “ISIS”.
The children were immediately removed from the care of their mother under a Police Protection Order. They were then placed in foster care pursuant to section 20 accommodation. They then moved to the care of the grandparents, as I have mentioned on the 6 August 2015, where they remain.
When the police made a search of the mother’s home it was the view of the police and the social worker who later visited that the home had in effect been abandoned. The mother had destroyed or disposed of many items relating to the children, but she had with her their birth certificates and her marriage certificate. She had made plans to sell her car to her brother.
Various electronic devices were found in bin bags at the property, along with another of the mother’s mobile phones. Those devices, along with the mother’s mobile phone, were examined. The results of those examinations indicated that the mother had been in conversation with a large number of people known to be linked to Islamic State. One particular individual, known as SAJ, is known to be a prominent member of Islamic State.
During the course of the fact finding hearing the mother gave evidence. As I indicated at the conclusion of that hearing I found that the mother was lying throughout almost the entirety of her evidence. I was left in no doubt that the mother intended to travel to Syria with or without the father. The mother had been in contact with Jihadists, in particular SAJ, solely for the purposes of going to Syria. I found that it was plain that if the mother had succeeded in her attempts to enter Syria, and in particular to join Islamic State, the children would have been put at extreme risk of very, very significant harm, if not death. She had been provided with funds by persons unknown. I concluded that I was bound to draw the inference that the money found in the mother’s possession had come from Jihadist supporters.
The Local Authority sought findings that:
(1), in July 2015 it was the children’s mother’s intentions to go to a war zone in Syria controlled by Islamic State with the children and for all of them to remain there on a permanent basis;
(2), the intention to cross into Syria was driven by religion 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;
(3) the parents’ relationship was characterised by domestic abuse and the mother intended to spend time with both the children and the father together, placing them at risk of ongoing exposure to domestic abuse and a risk of emotional harm.
I am entirely satisfied that those findings are amply supported by the evidence. I make those findings in respect of each of the three findings sought by the Local Authority.
In the premises I am satisfied that the threshold criteria of section 31(2) of the Children Act 1989 are satisfied in respect of each of the three children.
As the mother recognised by her concession not to oppose the making of care orders it would not be in the children’s welfare best interests sadly for them to return to her care. I am satisfied that it meets the welfare best interests of all three children to remain in the loving care of their maternal grandparents who are providing them with excellent care.
I note that the children have expressed the view to their Guardian that ideally they would wish to go home to their mother. That is an entirely understandable wish but one which the Court cannot accede to. The Court has to take into account - their overall welfare best interests. I am satisfied at the moment they would be at risk of harm were they to return to their mother’s care and accordingly I am satisfied that it is appropriate for me to make care orders in respect of each of the three children in favour of the Local Authority.
The mother does not seek a specific order for contact. I am content that the order should remain silent on that issue. No doubt appropriate arrangements will be made between the mother, the Local Authority and the maternal grandparents for contact from time to time.