Sunday 18 August 2019

Parents of 'Jihadi Jack' insist they did 'what any parent would do' after they are found guilty of funding terrorism

John Letts and Sally Lane outside of the Old Bailey in London Photo credit: Yui Mok/PA Wire
John Letts and Sally Lane outside of the Old Bailey in London Photo credit: Yui Mok/PA Wire
Jack Letts, the Muslim convert dubbed Jihadi Jack Photo credit: PA Wire

Emily Pennink

A COUPLE convicted of sending money to their son "Jihadi Jack" in Syria insisted they did "what any parent would do" as they walked free from court.

Organic farmer John Letts, 58, and former Oxfam fundraising officer Sally Lane, 57, were spared jail after they were found guilty of funding terrorism.

Speaking outside the Old Bailey, they said: "We have been convicted for doing what any parent would do if they thought that their child's life was in danger."

They claimed they were "let down badly" by police and Government as their son remains "in limbo", locked up indefinitely in northern Syria without being charged with a crime.

Jack Letts, the Muslim convert dubbed Jihadi Jack Photo credit: PA Wire
Jack Letts, the Muslim convert dubbed Jihadi Jack Photo credit: PA Wire

They said: "The heavy price we paid today is an indicator of the love we have for our children.

"We are committed to help Jack return home. We will continue our campaign to help those that the Government has turned its back on."

The trial had heard how the pair refused to believe their 18-year-old son Jack had become an extremist when they allowed him to travel.

Jurors were told they ignored repeated warnings he had joined Islamic State in Syria and sent him - or tried to send - a total of £1,723 (€1,933) despite being told by police three times not to.

Prosecutor Alison Morgan QC said the couple, from Oxford, "turned a blind eye to the obvious" - that their son had joined the terrorist group by the time they sent £223 (€250) in September 2015.

But the defendants argued that by December 2015, when they tried to send more funds, they were acting under "duress" fearing their son was in mortal danger.

A jury deliberated for nearly 20 hours to find the defendants guilty on Friday of one charge of funding terrorism in September 2015.

They were cleared of the same charge in December 2015 and a third charge relating to an attempt to send money in January 2016 was ordered to lie on file after jurors could not agree.

There were gasps in the public gallery but the defendants made no reaction in the dock as the verdicts were delivered.

Judge Nicholas Hilliard QC sentenced John Letts and Lane to 15 months' imprisonment, suspended for 12 months "in the very special circumstances of this case".

He told them: "It was one thing for parents to be optimistic about their children and I do acknowledge he is your son who you love very much.

"But in this context you did lose sight of realities."

The trial had heard how Jack Letts left the family home in May 2014 and embarked on what his parents saw as a "grand adventure" to learn Arabic in Jordan.

Beforehand, a friend of the teenager had tried to warn his parents about his growing extremism and urged them to confiscate his passport.

From Jordan, Jack Letts moved to Kuwait and married Asmaa, the daughter of a tribal elder, in Iraq before travelling on to Syria.

Lane told jurors she was "horrified" when he rang her to say he was in Syria in September 2014.

John Letts begged his son to come home, telling him: "A father should never live to see his son buried."

In early 2015, police raided the family home and warned the defendants not to send any property or money to their son.

In July 2015, Jack posted on Facebook that he would like to perform a "martyrdom operation" on a group of British soldiers, and threatened to behead his old school friend Linus Doubtfire, who had joined the Army.

When challenged by his parents, he said: "I would happily kill each and every one of Linus Unit personally... I honestly want to cut Linus head off."

Despite being told by an expert it was "highly improbable" Jack was not involved in military activity, Lane sent £223 (€250).

Police followed up with a second warning, telling Lane that "sending money to Jack is the same as sending money to Isis".

But in December 2015, Jack Letts began indicating he would like to leave Syria and told of a "big misguidance in the state".

Lane twice attempted to transfer more money, telling Jack: "We know you are in danger so we feel we have no choice but to help you and send it."

Both times, the funds were blocked and the defendants were arrested.

The jury was not told that father-of-one Jack Letts, now aged 23, was held by Kurdish authorities in northern Syria.

Detective Chief Superintendent Kath Barnes said the conviction sends a clear message, adding: "It's not for us to choose which laws to follow and which not to and when it's OK to break the law."

She said investigators had a "huge empathy" for the Letts family, adding: "Fundamentally John Letts and Sally Lane are not bad people.

"It's hard to imagine the kind of agony they must be going through because of the choices their son made."

Jenny Hopkins from the CPS said: "It is natural for parents to care for their son but Sally Lane and John Letts were warned of Jack's activities and told not to send him money or risk prosecution. They chose to ignore that advice.

"The lessons are simple: individuals should not travel to fight in war zones and those at home should not send them money."

PA Media

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