A controversial terror trial of three Britons accused of helping a fourth to travel to Syria to fight with the Kurdish YPG has collapsed at the Old Bailey after the Crown Prosecution Service abandoned the case.
Had the three men – a man, his son and a former paratrooper – been convicted it would have been the first time any Briton would have been guilty of terror offences relating to the YPG, which fought alongside the UK against Islamic State in Syria’s civil war.
But after a short hearing at the central criminal court on Friday morning, Mr Justice Sweeney directed the court to enter not guilty verdicts on all the charges against Daniel Burke, 33, and father and son Paul and Samuel Newey, 49 and 19 respectively.
Simon Davis, for the crown, said that there was “insufficient evidence to sustain realistic prospect of conviction” but declined to give any explanation as to why the prosecution had abandoned its case.
They had all been accused of helping Paul Newey’s son and Samuel Newey’s older brother, Daniel Newey, travel to Syria to rejoin the YPG last November. Burke had fought alongside Dan Newey on a previous trip to Syria in 2017 to 2018.
Speaking after the hearing, Paul Newey said he was “disgusted and angry” with a situation that he had found bizarre. “There was no crime committed because it’s not terrorism – because my son is not a terrorist.
“He was there fighting with the allied forces against Isis. He was doing the right thing – he has gone to put his life at risk for other people for no gain to himself.”
The YPG is not banned in the UK, although Syrian Kurdish forces have become increasingly embroiled in conflict with Turkey, after Ankara invaded last October to create a 20-mile deep security zone in northern Syria, where the Kurdish population was concentrated.
Defence lawyers for the three had been planning to argue that the prosecution was politically motivated by a desire by the British authorities to support Turkey, which is strongly opposed to Kurdish separatism in its own country.
Burke, the former soldier, from Wythenshawe in Manchester, was arrested in Dover last December and had been accused of wanting to travel to Syria himself as well as helping Dan Newey leave the UK, a month after the Turkish incursion began.
The ex-paratrooper had previously fought with the YPG in Syria in 2017 and 2018 against Isis at a time when the Royal Air Force was involved in bombing of the Islamist group and British and other special forces were secretly deployed on the ground, training Kurdish forces to take on Isis.
Paul Newey, from Solihull, had been accused of funding terrorism because he had lent his son Dan £150 through Paypal last November at a time when his son was travelling to rejoin the YPG – although the father denied he knew at the time where his son was or what his intentions were.
Samuel, a younger brother of Dan, was also accused of helping his brother secretly leave the UK. All three men appeared in court via videolink and spoke only to confirm their names.
After the hearing Paul Newey said the arrest had turned his life upside down. “I had to move workplace and I haven’t been able to coach sports. It has touched every part of my life. There was no law broken and they took me to court on nothing.”
The consent of the attorney general – currently Suella Braverman – is usually required to bring the prosecution of terror offences involving another country such as Syria. Braverman was appointed to the job in February, taking over from barrister Geoffrey Cox.
In the hearing, Sweeney said he would rule subsequently on whether to force the CPS to give a more detailed explanation as to why it had abandoned the case. “This it not the first occasion where this has happened,” the trial judge said.
Dan Newey, from Nuneaton, had decided to leave the UK in 2017 to join the YPG having followed the Syrian conflict in the news. He previously worked in insurance and had no military experience but said he was trained by British and US special forces shortly after he arrived in Syria.
The young man returned to Britain the following year and, in common with standing policy for anybody returning from the Syrian conflict, was subject to an investigation by counter-terror police to assess if posed any risk to the public.
Armed police conducted a raid on Dan Newey’s home but no charges were brought, and after some months his passport was returned to him – which family members say give him a “green light” to travel back to Syria.
Vikki, Dan Newey’s mother and Paul Newey’s former partner, said she was relieved the prosecution had collapsed because of the impact the terror prosecutions had had on her extended family. But the 46-year-old said she thought the decision to drop the case was ultimately political.
“I don’t think the government have had a change of heart and think, gosh, these Kurdish people, that’s awful for them. It’s either a political manoeuvre or there is something that the government doesn’t want to come out on public record,” she said.