Shamima Begum loses legal fight to return to Britain despite MI5 'downplaying her grooming'

·4-min read
Shamima Begum - PA
Shamima Begum - PA

MI5 has been accused of downplaying Shamima Begum’s grooming at the hands of terrorists, in an “extraordinary” ruling which rejected an appeal against the removal of her British citizenship.

A judge concluded there was a “credible suspicion” Ms Begum, now 23, was trafficked to Syria at the age of 15 “for the purpose of sexual exploitation”, but said this was not sufficient for her legal case to succeed.

Ms Begum fled the UK to join Islamic State (IS) with two school friends in 2015 and resurfaced in a refugee camp in 2019, prompting the home secretary to revoke her citizenship.

MI5 advised the home secretary at the time that Ms Begum would continue to pose a threat to the public if she returned to Britain - expertise which the Special Immigration Appeals Commission concluded on Wednesday it could not overrule.

Nonetheless, Mr Justice Jay repeatedly questioned the judgement of the Security Service in his ruling and suggested the evidence provided by the intelligence agency “betrayed an all-or-nothing approach”.

Shamima Begum - Sam Tarling
Shamima Begum - Sam Tarling

He said there was “considerable force” to Ms Begum’s argument that the assessment she had travelled to Syria voluntarily - advanced by the home secretary - was “as stark as it is unsympathetic”.

“Further, there is some merit in the argument that those advising the secretary of state see this as a black-and-white issue, when many would say there are shades of grey,” he continued.

He went on to accuse the home secretary of dealing with the trafficking concerns “in a somewhat dismissive way”.

Instead, the judge found, there were grounds to believe “the motive of bringing her to Syria was sexual exploitation for which, as a child, she could not give valid consent”.

Lawyers for the home secretary argued last year that “national security is a weighty factor and that it would take a very strong countervailing case to outweigh it”, the ruling said.

The judge responded: “Reasonable people will profoundly disagree with the secretary of state, but that raises wider societal and political questions which it is not the role of this commission to address.”

A security assessment prepared by MI5 for the Home Secretary, disclosed to the appeal, said there was “nothing unusual” about Ms Begum’s radicalisation compared with others who had travelled to Syria.

Shamima Begum - Sam Tarling for The Telegraph
Shamima Begum - Sam Tarling for The Telegraph

In the ruling, the judge said: “The commission is concerned by the (Security Service’s) apparent downplaying of the significance of radicalisation and grooming, in stating that what happened to Ms Begum is not unusual.

“The commission does not doubt that this has been commonplace but that has no real relevance.

“History, and sadly the present, is replete with examples of dictatorships attempting to manipulate their subject populations with propaganda and the like. It is commonplace that they succeed.”

Ultimately, however, the commission accepted that the home secretary’s conclusion was “an integral part of the overall national security assessment carried out by the Security Service” and therefore not a matter for the court.

The judge said “reasonable people with knowledge of all the relevant evidence” would dispute MI5’s assessment of Ms Begum’s threat to national security in 2019.

“However, under our constitutional settlement, these sensitive issues are for the Secretary of State to evaluate and not for the commission,” the ruling continued.

He found there were arguable grounds that the police, Ms Begum’s school and local authority failed to take enough steps to stop her leaving, adding: “The state may have failed in its duties to Ms Begum before she travelled to Syria, but she is now well beyond the scope of its protections.”

Ms Begum will now continue to be held at the al-Roj camp in northern Syria, which is run by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), although her lawyers claimed the legal fight was “nowhere near over”.

Shamima Begum - PA
Shamima Begum - PA

Speaking outside court, Gareth Peirce, Ms Begum’s lawyer, said the ruling was “extraordinary” and it was clear the commission was “deeply troubled” by the limitations placed on its ability to act in this case.

“The outcome that we face is that no British child who has been trafficked outside the UK will be protected by the British state if the Home Secretary invokes national security,” she continued.

A Home Office spokesman said: “We are pleased that the court has found in favour of the Government’s position in this case.

“The Government’s priority remains maintaining the safety and security of the UK and we will robustly defend any decision made in doing so.”