‘Jihadi’ Jack Letts Parents’ Conviction for Funding Terrorism: Just or Unfair?

John Letts and Sally Lane

Following a lengthy trial in the UK, on the 21st June 2019 John Letts and Sally Lane were convicted for the terrorism funding offence of making funding arrangements (section 17 Terrorism Act 2000). This conviction received widespread media coverage in the UK. The main reason for this is both are parents of a 23 year old male, Jack Letts, who went to Syria to join the terrorist organisation, Islamic State (IS). Both received a 15 months custodial sentence, suspended for 2 years. The couple were tried on three counts of making funding arrangements, but were only convicted on one count, with the jury finding them not guilty on the second count and unable to reach a verdict on the third count. The value of the count they were convicted for was £223. As stated, the case received widespread UK media coverage and I gave a number of interviews to provide expert commentary to the BBC and independent broadcasters. One may wonder why this case received such media attention. This blog post will address this and assess both the offence of making funding arrangements and the sentencing guidelines provided to the judicary for offences related to terrorism funding.

Jack Letts

John Letts and Sally Lane are a typical decent middle class couple who have lived what many would perceive as a normal life. Both work, had a family and have been a law abiding couple having no previous convictions. Their son, Jack Letts, converted to Islam when he was 16 years old and when he was 17 years old he went to study in the Middle East, which his parents funded. Shortly after Jack’s arrival in the Middle East his parents did not hear from him and evidence emerged that he was associating with IS extremists, something that Jack Letts confirmed to his parents when he told them he had joined other IS recruits in Raqqa, the capital of IS’ self-proclaimed caliphate. In essence these events became newsworthy because Jack Letts came from a white middle class family, converted to Islam at a young age, albeit with his parents’ support, and decided to join IS, a group that is known to be an extremist Islamist group with a vile, warped and violent ideology, hence why some of the printed media dubbed Letts as ‘Jihadi Jack’.

IS flag

IS have not solely killed Christians, citizens from western states and homosexuals, IS have killed more Muslims that any other terrorist group and had a pogrom against Yazidis (whose religion is a cross between Christianity and Islam) who IS saw as devil worshippers. In one interview I gave for the BBC, I was part of discussion with a close friend of Letts and Lane during which he claimed there was no evidence of Jack Letts fighting with IS and that due to Assad’s regime in Syria bombing Aleppo, he joined IS for humanitarian reasons. Knowing what we do about IS, I suggest there is a degree of naivety regarding this claim. As I said in my interviews on this point, if Jack Letts wanted to carry out humanitarian work he should have joined the official groups. This had its danger as we saw with Alan Henning from the UK who was with official aid agencies when he was captured by IS and later beheaded by IS’ Emwazi (also from the UK and nicknamed ‘Jihadi John’).

Terrorism-Act-2000

Regarding the facts in Letts and Lane’s trial a great deal of sympathy has been shown for the couple.  I think this is reflected in the verdicts the jury delivered and the sentence passed by the judge at their trial. I know being a parent myself, regardless of their age, they are still your children and as parents you still support and help them.

The offence they were tried for is funding arrangements under section 17 Terrorism Act 2000 that states it is an offence to:

‘…enter into or become concerned in the arrangement as a result of which money or other property is made available to another or he knows or has reasonable cause to suspect that it will or may be used for the purposes of terrorism’.

The offence is a serious one carrying a maximum of 14 years imprisonment.

As stated, the jury found Letts and Lane not guilty of section 17 in relation to attempting to send £1,000 to Jack Letts in December 2015 and unable to return a verdict regarding the attempt by Lane to send £500 to him in January 2016. The couple were sending Jack Letts money under the belief that it may help him survive, even escape from Raqqa and IS. Jack Letts told his parents that any money they sent him would not go on ‘jihad’, advising them if they sent the money to come up with a cover story. In September 2015 the couple did send £223 to Jack Letts’ contact in London.

Although they received conflicting messages from Jack Letts, some regarding the West dying in IS rage for its actions, other messages pleaded for help as he stated he was doubting IS’ ideology and beliefs and that he wanted to return home to the UK. In informing the police of this, the police, two independent experts, an academic specialising in this area and a professional de-radicaliser advised Letts and Lane not to send any money to Jack Letts. This may due to IS not allowing its members to own personal property and any money received by its members, IS would not allow them to keep, seeing it as property of IS. Ignoring this advice they tried to do so.  Although one junior liaison police officer did suggest they send Jack money if it would help his escape, this was ill advised advice and a mistake.

Taking all the facts together, it appears the jury did find sufficient evidence to show beyond reasonable doubt that Letts and Lane were guilty of the first count regarding the sending the £223, but not the other counts. In passing sentence, the trial judge did say of Letts and Lane that they were, ‘…two perfectly decent people … in custody because of the love of their child’. This leads to the sentencing guidelines for financing terrorism trial judges have to follow. In March 2018 new sentencing guidelines on terrorism offences were published by the Sentencing Council, where the Council Chairman said that terrorist offences are among the most serious that come before the courts, adding:
‘As well as the threat to people’s lives, terrorist activity threatens the way society operates.’

Old Baily

The guidelines have a number of steps a trial judge must consider before reaching their decision. These includes assessing the culpability and harm associated with the facts of the case. It appears in Letts and Lane’s case, under culpability they performed a limited function under direction and under harm, the couple’s actions would only make a minor contribution for furthering terrorism. Another step judges take is assessing the aggravating and mitigating factors. Examining the aggravating factors related to Letts and Lane the only factor pertinent is their failure to respond to warnings. In mitigation, clearly the couple’s previous good character and not having previous convictions allowed the trial judge to pass a suspended sentence.

In conclusion, both Letts and Lane appear to have received sympathy for their plight by both the jury and the trial judge, as well as wider society. However, while some may see even the convictions as harsh, from the facts of the case Letts and Lane received advice from experts and practitioners not to send money to Jack Letts. Although the amount is small that led to the conviction, an acquittal would send a precedence for others not so ‘innocent’ to use in order to evade conviction for a serious offence. The circumstances Letts and Lane faced are difficult for any parent, but taking an objective view, as this case shows, sometimes tough love is needed.

My terrorism book cover

In relation to IS and the UK offences under funding terrorism, you can find more detail in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’

 

My Book ‘Terrorism and State Surveillance of Communications’

My book with Simon

My book ‘Terrorism and State Surveillance of Communications’ co-written with Simon Hale-Ross has been published this week and is available for purchase. It contains chapters from practitioners, academics with practitioner experience and academics who research and write in this area. Click on the link for more details.

 

London Letter Bombs: Are we seeing dissident Irish Republican attacks return to Britain?

london letter bombs

On Tuesday 5th March 2019 three packages containing explosives were found at Heathrow Airport, City of London Airport and Waterloo Rail Station. The package that was delivered to Heathrow was opened and caught fire, while the other two were unopened and seized by the police. These IED’s were small and placed in a Jiffy bag and posted in a white A4 envelope. To date no one has claimed responsibility for this action.
At the time of writing the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism unit, SO15, were being assisted by the Irish police, An Garda Siochana in the investigation. This is not confirmation dissident republican groups like the New IRA (NIRA) were responsible, but there is a possibility of a connection. As all investigators should do, SO15 are keeping an open mind as to who is responsible for sending the letters. It could be from any extremist group or individuals influenced by an extremist group including Islamists or the far-right, to an individual with no connection whatsoever who simply has a grudge against the recipients.

IRA unfinished revolution derrycar bomb derry jan 2019

 

Since the delivery of the letters developments are increasingly leaning to NIRA as being responsible. Over the last few years NIRA (and its predecessor Real IRA) have been the most active group carrying out violent attacks in the North of Ireland. Their violent activity has increased over the last few years as seen with the car bomb outside Bishop Street courthouse in January 2019 and the shootings in 2018 and 2019. Gardaí intelligence has indicated that for several months NIRA is preparing to ‘ramp up’ its activities in 2019.

BBC-Breakfast-Logobbc radio 5

Supported by NIRA’s political wing, Saoradh, they have used the Irish border issue in the Brexit negotiations to recruit disillusioned members of the nationalist community in the North to their cause. Emphasising how a hard border demonstrates a degree of contempt by the UK government in Westminster towards the Irish, NIRA recently warned ‘there will be blood’ if a hard border returns between the North and the Republic. The British mainstream media has hardly reported the recent violence in the North by both dissident republicans and loyalists. As seen in the Troubles, a campaign of violence carried out in Britain does bring closer attention to dissident republican’s cause by both national and international mainstream media. I was part of that having given interviews providing commentary over the letter bombs to BBC Breakfast (television) and BBC Radio 5 Live and talkRADIO discussing the potential Irish connection to this incident.

These particular letter explosives were designed to start a small fire, not to cause serious injury, but they have been enough for SO15 to be concerned about the incident. It appears the aim of these letters was to frighten and warn people that they are not safe. It has achieved that, especially with the mainstream media reporting the incident. As I said in my media interviews it has got us talking about it and that is what the sender of the letters wants. This is part of the terror effect, to frighten and warn people.

ira_with_flags2loyalists

As stated, currently it is not known who is responsible and there is the possibility this action was carried out by a person with strong opinions about the recipients of the letters, even as to how Brexit negotiations are panning out who have no connections with terrorist groups. However, reports are increasingly pointing towards NIRA and if this is the case it will emphasise how the whole of the UK is facing a terrorist threat on three fronts, Islamists (that is likely to be enhanced with Islamic State fighters returning to the UK from Syria), the extreme far-right (neo-Nazi’s) and from dissident Irish republican groups. It is of paramount importance the UK, Irish and EU Brexit negotiators find a solution regarding the Irish border issue to maintain the free flow of all Irish citizens between the North and the Republic, thereby removing a political issue that is fuelling dissident Irish republican groups’ cause.

My terrorism book cover

You can read in more detail about terrorism in the North of Ireland in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ published by Routledge

Brexit and the North of Ireland: Are we returning to the Troubles?

IRA Derry

During the UK’s EU referendum campaign how Brexit would impact on the North of Ireland, especially in relation to the Irish border, was an issue not seriously considered in Britain. EU officials may have considered it and if they did they kept their powder dry to use the implications this issue would have at a later stage in Brexit negotiations. As we have seen in the last few months the Irish border issue has become one of the most serious sticking points in progressing the UK’s leaving the EU, especially with EU officials during Brexit negotiations over the last eight months or so. There is no doubt EU officials have used the Irish border issue as a divisive bargaining chip. It could be argued that the border issue was not even thought of as an agenda item in 2016 and it questions why more recently it only did so. This is strange as the Gibraltar question did become part of the early Brexit negotiations.

theresa-mayEU Flag & BrexitLeo-Varadkar-Brexit

While negotiations initially focused on the impact the UK leaving the EU would have on the freedom of movement of goods, services and people, immigration, border controls with continental Europe and issues related to the influence EU law and Court of Justice of the European Union decisions would have on the UK post-Brexit, Ireland seemed not to enter into the equation in the early stages. This is disconcerting as it appears  it was forgotten that the Irish Republic is the only one of 28 Member States with a land border with the UK. I have raised this issue in my previous blog posts as it appears it is only now are British MP’s, mainly the English politicians, waking up to the fact how Brexit can be an instrument to be used by dissident Irish republicans, mainly in the North to destabilise the peace brought about the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) in 1998. At the time of writing the UK Prime Minister is in Ireland discussing the issue trying to find a resolution. As such, recent dissident republican action has put dissident loyalist groups on alert to prepare for taking action against a united Ireland.

ira_with_flags2

Regarding dissident republican groups, prior to Brexit there has been a steady growth of violent activity that can be traced from the attack on British Army soldiers outside Massereene Barracks in 2009, statement bombings such those outside the MI5 offices in Belfast, car bomb outside Derry’s Strand Road police station in 2010, even the plan to mortar bomb that police station in 2013 and killing of PSNI and prison officers (examples include the killing of Ronan Kerr in 2011 And David Black in 2012). In certain areas of the North support for former dissident republican group the Real IRA (RIRA) never disappeared. For example in Derry’s Creggan area when the 32 County Sovereignty Movement (32CSM) held Easter Rising commemorations at Creggan Cemetery RIRA members not only attended in paramilitary uniforms, but gave addresses to the attendees. The ten year period of 2009 to 2019 has seen changes in dissident republican movements and groups. In 2012 the New IRA was formed between RIRA, Republican Action Against Drugs and disaffected members of the Provisional IRA. The INLA and Continuity IRA did not join this group and continue to exist in their own right as separate terrorist groups. More recently the far-left political party, Saoradh was formed 2016 and is an amalgamation of groups such as the 32CSM and Republican Network Unity.
car bomb derry jan 2019

As I have reported in my more recent blog posts, Saoradh and the New IRA (and arguably the INLA and CIRA) have taken advantage of Brexit and the Irish border issue to deliberately misinform and use for propaganda purposes in order to incite further unrest and violence. Using the border issue saying that a hard border is evidence of British imperialism on the Irish, they have used the issue to recruit members of the nationalist community to their cause. As such, we have witnessed an increase in dissident republican activity, with the latest being the car bomb outside Derry’s Bishop Street courthouse in January 2019 and the two ‘punishment’ shootings in the Ballymagroarty area of Derry on the 2nd February 2019. Also on the 2nd February an arms cache that included a suspected mortar bomb tube was found by the Gardaí in County Louth close to the border with County Armagh in the North. This in addition to the guns found buried in a cemetery in Derry in January 2019.

uvf

There is no doubting dissident republicans are going to use Brexit as a vehicle to promote unification of all 32 Irish counties under governance from the Dail in Dublin. As such this has put dissident loyalist groups on alert. As one of their Belfast murals says, ‘Prepared for Peace, Ready for War’. While murals are perceived as tourist attractions, recent murals like this on both republican and loyalist sides have a ring of authenticity related to the current situation. This is seen with the number of loyalist shootings and killings in the last 12 months, the latest being Ian Ogle, a spokesman for the loyalist community on the 27th January 2019. These actions on both sides suggests they are preparing for conflict and a return to the Troubles.

Trimble & Hume

One catalyst for this is the very real prospect of a poll being held on Irish unity. If this occurs, never mind a return to the Troubles, its turning the clock back to 1919 and there is no way loyalists want a united Ireland. Even though we have seen an increase in violence, we may still be left of bang regarding the North of Ireland, but if this situation is ignored by British based MP’s, EU officials and, as it appears, not recognised by DUP politicians who are pro-Brexit, very shortly we will be right of bang with an increase in violence. If this occurs all the hard work by the likes of John Hume and David Trimble that brought about peace via the GFA will have gone.

Issues related to this blog post can be read in more detail in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’  published by Routledge

My terrorism book cover

Radio Interview Reviewing My Book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’

 

My terrorism book cover

Just after 12 noon (BST) tomorrow (22nd August 2018) I will be on City Talk with Mick Coyle discussing my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ and issues that come out of the book as well as a little on my career to date. I have added a link if you want to listen. I am sure Everton will also get a mention!

Me at City Talk

 (Me and Mick reviewing the newspapers on City Talk)

 

Cruz, Florida Shooting and the Far Right: How long before gun control and white supremacist groups are controlled?

Nikolas cuz

Nikola Cruz, a 19 year old, has been charged with the murder of 17 people who it is alleged Cruz shot at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
This incident raises two important issues. One relates to US gun control as once more we have witnessed another massacre of innocent people, which from the view of this UK citizen it is incomprehensible as to why the US has not introduced legislation bringing in stricter and tighter conditions over gun ownership and its use. Clearly the influence of the US’ National Rifle Association must be strong on many US politicians, who from my perspective appear to see votes more important than their constituents’ lives. A reliance on the second amendment of the 1791 Bill of Rights that states, ‘A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed’ in 2018 seems a rather outdated constitutional right. Written at a time when the US did not have a standing army, as the US now has one of the world’s most powerful military this right seems to be obsolete. This is not the main focus of this blog, it is a second issue that this murder raises regarding Cruz’s alleged association with the far right, in particular the group Republic of Florida (RoF). If proved it demonstrates how influential these groups are in inspiring individuals to carry out acts of murder and violence in their name be they direct to by that group or not.

republic of florida flag

A white supremacist group, RoF has claimed that Cruz was associated with them. This is an allegation that is currently being investigated and has yet to be confirmed. That said over the last few years globally there has been a rise in murder and violent acts carried by individuals influenced by the far right narrative. This has included the killing of six people at a mosque in Quebec, Canada in January 2017 by Alexandre Bissonnette. In the UK examples include the conviction of a member of the now proscribed group National Action, Zak Davies for attempt murder, Thomas Mair for the murder of UK MP Jo Cox and more recently Darren Osborne for the murder and injury to Muslim worshippers outside a mosque in Finsbury Park, London. In 2017 the US witnessed the killing of Heather Heyer who was protesting against a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia where it is alleged that James Field (who allegedly has Nazi sympathies) drove into the protestors killing Heather Heyer and injuring 35 others.

us bill of rights

The question is if other states should follow the UK’s lead and start proscribing certain far right groups as terrorist organisations? In raising this question concerns will be expressed as to how this would be seen as a step limiting certain rights. In Europe these are mainly governed by articles 11, freedom of expression and article 12, freedom of association under the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (articles 10 and 11 respectively under the Council of Europe’s European Convention on Human Rights). In the US these rights come under amendment 1 of the 1791 Bill of Rights. In a democracy it is important that views can be expressed freely and to associate with whoever we want to without fear of retribution from the state. As Sedley LJ said in the UK case Redmond-Bate v Director of Public Prosecutions [1999] EWHC Admin 733:
‘Freedom of speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative, provided it does not tend to provoke violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.’
The phrase that is important in this judgement is, ‘…provided it does not tend to provoke violence’. Note this is not to promote violence, just merely to provoke violence, that is merely to inspire someone to carry out violence.

antipodean resistance
It can be argued that the RoF (formed in 2014) promotes violence. Under the RoF’s ten codes, code 3 promotes a willingness to ‘wage battle’ by encouraging its followers to maintain a level of fitness saying, ‘You cannot fight if you are tired and weak’. Code 7 promotes its followers to be part of an organised militia. RoF has contact and associations with other white supremacist groups including Atomwaffen. Atomwaffen openly describes itself as a neo-Nazi group and as seen on their website the group provokes violence in achieving their aims. In Canada a recent study revealed that there are approximately 100 extreme far right groups active in Canada including Soldiers of Odin, the Alt-Right Group Heritage Front, Blood and Honour and based in Quebec, La Meute (translated as ‘Wolf Pack’), who between 1985 to 2014 were responsible for more than 120 violent incidents. In Australia a number of far right groups exist including Aryan Nation, Combat 18, National Democratic Party for Australia, Soldiers of Odin and United Patriots Front. Formed in late 2016 one of the more recent extreme far right groups to emerge in Australia is Antipodean Resistance. Antipodean Resistance is also openly a neo-Nazi group that appears to have based itself on the UK group National Action. The language and imagery used between Antipodean Resistance, National Action and groups like Atomwaffen are identical.
Earlier this week the UK’s Home Secretary, Amber Rudd revealed that she is encouraging internet service providers to use software that blocks Islamist extremist content. While the Islamist narrative is equally as vile as that of the far right, perhaps globally politicians should look at encouraging companies to use software that also blocks far right extremist content. Maybe other states should go further and proscribe those far right groups that are openly provoking violence. In doing so, this would give the police much wider powers and offences in which to deal effectively with the threat far right groups are posing to the security of citizens in many states. If it is later evidenced that Cruz had connections with RoF surely this is also evidence that certain far right groups should be prevented from carrying out their activities that is attractive to the disenchanted in society and, those like Cruz, vulnerable to being drawn towards violent activity. Rightly, if these were Islamist inspired groups, there would be more vociferous calls from politicians and the public for something to be done. It should be the same for far right groups that promote or merely provoke violence too.

My terrorism book cover

I discuss many of these issues in my forthcoming book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ that is being published by Routledge in March 2018.

Osborne Convicted of Terrorist Murder: Time for all extreme far right groups like Britain First to be banned?

METROGRAB:Suspected  Finsbury Park attacker is detained by police and members of the public
Photo credit: Nawaf Atiq/ Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/nawaf.atiq

Darren Osborne has been convicted of murder and the attempted murder of nine others when he drove a van into Muslim worshippers at Finsbury Park in June 2017. Osborne received a life sentence where he will serve a minimum of 43 years in prison. While tried for murder, as it usual with terrorist incidents when persons are killed, the political cause (here extreme far right) was a sentencing factor and the trial judge, Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb stated that Osborne’s actions was a terrorist attack as he intended to kill.

It is important we recognise the dangers the extreme far right pose to the security and safety of citizens, not just in the UK but globally. Extremism in all its forms from Islamist to extreme far right.

National Action 2

In the UK, while the UK extreme far right group National Acton was proscribed in December 2016 as a terrorist organisation (that was followed the groups morphed after National Action was proscribed, Scottish Dawn and NS131), there are other extreme far right groups whose extremist message is influencing others towards violence carried out in their name. That violence is invariably targeted towards minorities, that for many far right groups does not just focus on race and religion but sexuality and political views.

Jayda Fransen court case

The group Britain First is a prime example of an extreme far right group the UK government should seriously consider proscribing as a terrorist organisation. Currently its leader, Paul Golding, and its deputy leader Jayda Fransen are on trial for allegedly carrying out religiously aggravated harassment. The pair  targeted a person related to a rape trial. This is not the first occasion Golding and Fransen have been arrested and appeared in court. There are many examples  including in December 2017 Fransen appeared at Belfast Magistrates Court for allegedly using anti-Islamic comments. In December 2016 Golding was jailed for eight weeks for breaching  am injunction prohibiting him from entering mosques in Bedfordshire. In November 2016 Fransen was convicted for religious aggravated harassment, receiving a £2,000 fine.

Britain-First-badge

While Britain First’s mission statement does not explicitly state it is anti-Islamic, there is a picture of Golding and Fransen with their supporters with a banner saying ‘Time to fight Islamic terror’. The statement says Britain First’s policies are pro-British, loving ‘our people, our heritage and culture’, defending them no matter what odds the group faces, the question is who is ‘our’? The statement is clear the group is anti-foreigner,. anti-asylum seeker and anti-migrant, adding that Christianity, that the group sees as the bedrock and foundation of Britain’s national life, is under ‘ferocious assault, with Christians facing discrimination and persecution.

donald trump 1

It is perhaps time now for the UK government to proscribe Britain First as their narrative does influence others to believe their skewed and warped ideology. The problem of them being free to release anything they want to say is the group can grasp any legitimacy of its narrative, especially when that legitimacy comes from an unexpected source like the US President. In November 2017 US President, Donald Trump retweeted three of Fransen’s tweets that purported to show actions of Muslims , with those actions being shown to be a false depiction of what Fransen was using them for. Fransen jumped on this using it to legitimise Britain First’s narrative claiming that the US President supports them. This incident caused a bitter row between the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May and Donald Trump. Donald Trump has since said he is prepared to apologise for retweeting Britain First’s tweets, claiming that he had no knowledge of what the group stands for.

Although small in membership numbers, groups like Britain First and National Action do inspire others to carry out violent attacks. This is why they should all be proscribed a it gives the security services and the police wider powers and a wider number of offences to deal with the far right. This is seen in the number of arrests there have been on members of National Action, where even in January 2018 six alleged members of National Action were arrested in the UK. In addition to the wider powers being proscribed organisations reduces the platforms from which to spread their damaging and dangerous narrative with which to inspire those less aware of current affairs or special issues from carrying out acts of violence. Anything that does this has to be a positive move.

prevent logo

It is important counter-narratives are developed and used against all forms of extremism and this is an important strand of Prevent strategies. While Prevent has had its problems in the past, there is no credible alternative to use at the moment and the strategy does work. We should all work towards the goal of helping those who are vulnerable to being drawn towards terrorism by producing an effective counter-narrative and making as hard as possible for any extremist group to get their message out.