Mayor rejects claims council failed to protect schoolgirl who fled to Syria aged 15
PUBLISHED: 17:14 04 June 2019
Tower Hamlets Council has strongly rejected “skewed and cynical” claims that it failed to protect teenage Islamic State bride Shamima Begum before she fled to Syria in 2015.
In a letter to Sajid Javid, the Begum family's lawyer Tasnime Akunjee accused the council of failing to safeguard the Bethnal Green schoolgirl before she left the country aged 15 with two classmates.
The home secretary controversially revoked her UK citizenship in February, which Mr Akunjee branded a "politically driven abuse of power".
He also claimed Ms Begum's parents were never told that she had been interviewed by police after another girl from Bethnal Green Academy flew to Syria in 2014.
He added that the council has repeatedly refused to complete a serious case review - an independent investigation carried out after a child has been abused or neglected - arguing that Ms Begum was "groomed" in one of "the worst cases of child radicalisation in the western hemisphere".
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Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs said: "These claims are cynical and unfair. While I personally agree that Ms Begum should be brought back to the UK, the council's position is very clear.
"It has looked into the circumstances of this case in great detail and found that it does not meet the threshold for a serious case review. It is a complex matter involving a number of people and it is unfair for Mr Akunjee to try and seize an opportunity for his client by blaming the council for unsubstantiated failings."
After arriving in Syria, Ms Begum was married to a Dutch extremist fighter and bore three children, all of whom have died.
She is now living in the al-Roj refugee camp in northern Syria while she fights the government's decision to revoke her citizenship.
A spokesman for the Home Office said it does not comment on individual cases.
Simon Smith, who manages the government's Prevent anti-terror programme in Tower Hamlets, has said: "We are not fully familiar with how this has taken place and the only way we will find out is by speaking to Shamima.
"Over the last four years we have invested in ensuring that all of our schools are equipped to deal wth incidents such as these. We have learnt a huge amount post Bethnal Green, including the need for ensuring that schools are equipped to deal with the threats around radicalisation."
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