The number of children being groomed in the Islamic State “death cult” is one of Britain’s “great challenges” and more will have to be removed from their families, the Justice Secretary said today.
David Gauke said manipulative parents were trying to brainwash their sons and daughters, adding: “Society has got the right to say that there are some environments that are not safe.”
Those who groomed their children “in pursuit of a radical agenda” could not be left in charge of families, he said.
Mr Gauke also told the Standard that he was preparing the prisons system to cope with an influx of returning British jihadis in the coming months.
He said their arrival from Syria would create a “very significant” problem and suggested that the most dangerous extremists would be held in two new specialist segregation units.
Others would be given incentives under a “carrot and stick” approach to encourage them to face up to their offending and start living according to the “values and norms” of British society.
Mr Gauke’s warning about the danger of children being radicalised by their parents will, however, attract the most attention.
Last month the country’s most senior counter-terrorism officer, Met Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, called for the courts to start treating such adults in the same way as paedophiles.
Mr Gauke, whose responsibilities include overseeing the family courts, said: “A child brought up in an environment that leads them towards a belief in a death cult is not an environment that as a society we can condone. Society has got the right to say that there are some environments that are not safe and take action accordingly. We have to be conscious of the manipulators.
“A lot of our challenges in the prison system and more widely in society can be from the manipulators of young people.
"Whether it’s the grooming for sexual purposes or manipulating young people for pursuit of a radical agenda, that’s one of the great challenges we face as a society.”
The problem of children being radicalised at home was highlighted by a High Court case in August 2015.
Mr Justice Hayden ordered that a 16-year-old girl from Tower Hamlets be taken into care because her “deceitful” parents had been showing her IS propaganda.
In December 2014 she had been prevented from travelling to Syria when counter-terrorism officers removed her from a Turkey-bound plane on the runway at Heathrow.
In another notorious case, Sally Jones, a former punk rocker from Kent, took her son JoJo Dixon, 12, to join IS. He was later filmed shooting prisoners. Reports differ as to whether he died in a US airstrike that killed Jones last year.
This month Umar Ahmed Haque, 25, a religious teacher from east London who had tried to groom children as suicide attackers, was convicted of a series of terror offences at the Old Bailey.
Mr Gauke, a former City lawyer who was appointed Justice Secretary in January, said the return of British fighters from Syria was another major concern. Police have indicated that about 100 of the 850 who travelled to the war zone may be alive and have the right to come back. Mr Gauke declined to say how many he expected to return but said his department was doing “a lot of work” in preparation.
“There is a likelihood that we are going to see people returning from the Middle East in the months ahead and many of them are going to become our problem within the prison system,” he said.
“We need to make sure that there’s the proper approach to them. This is an issue that is going to be very significant for the criminal justice system as a whole and the prison system and is one of the big challenges that we have to face.”
He said many of those returning would be “Category A” prisoners held in the most secure jails. The two new specialist segregation units, in which extremists will be held away from other inmates to stop the spread of Islamist ideas, would be opened to complement an existing unit at Frankland Prison in Co Durham.
Mr Gauke said: “I have talked generally about the need to ensure that there are incentives within the prison system for those that do the right thing, for those that comply, don’t cause trouble, and that is a principle that applies across the board, including with those who have returned. Engaging and facing up to what they have done.
“We [need to] have a prison system that encourages that and places significant demands on people in these circumstances to understand society’s values and norms and what we are about as a country. We could be talking carrots or we could be talking sticks.”