Only a public enquiry will tell us how nine Bethnal Green Academy schoolgirls were radicalised

Tasnime Akunjee, the lawyer for Bethnal Green Academy jihadi bride Shamima Begum has made a video appealing to the people of Tower Hamlets to formally question Tower Hamlets Council as to why it has ‘not bothered’ to undertake Serious Case Reviews into the nine schoolgirls who were groomed to go to Syria.

You can see the original video on Facebook here. 

Of the nine girls, four girls made it to Syria and joined ISIS, another five were made wards of court and prevented from doing so.

What linked all these nine girls together? They went to the same school – Bethnal Green Academy.

In his video appeal, Mr Akunjee states that the story of the Bethnal Green Academy girls is the single most serious case of child radicalisation in the Western Hemisphere.

He asks borough residents to contact their local councillors and or Mayor John Biggs and ask two things. Firstly can an enquiry into the girl’s radicalisation be started – and secondly why has this not already been done?

“The local authority has not bothered to initiate a Serious Case review…i.e. an inquiry into ‘how did this happen/why did this happen?’ and what failures took place that allowed small girls to evade the police and security services of two states and make their way into a terrorist-occupied territory…”

Our society failed Shamima Begum

An individual does not wake up one morning and discovers that they have been radicalised as they slept.

Radicalisation is a process. Our society failed Shamima Begum and her friends by failing to realise these girls were being radicalised and did nothing to prevent it happening. Which is why we are where we are.

The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 contains a duty on specified authorities to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. This is also known as the ‘Prevent duty’. (Source: Gov.uk)

‘Specified authorities’ includes local authorities, providers of education, the health sector, the police and prisons.

Just another schoolgirl

At some point before February 2015 Shamima Begum was just another schoolgirl. What were the specific influences that radicalised her to such an extent that she would embrace a death cult such as ISIS? It seems that online resources and social media played their role but what pushed her towards consuming this propaganda? How did she find such digital fountains of hatred? By chance? Through the influence of others? How many days and weeks and months passed as she was seduced by this propaganda, slowly but irrevocably being dragged towards her current fate in a refugee camp far from home?

What were the cultural circumstances in Tower Hamlets that tilted her towards ISIS? Did someone close to her actively push nudge her or was she subject to more insidious influences that pervaded her home and community?

As borough residents we do not know. We should hope that the security services and the police know but we must not take that for granted. Maybe they know as little as we do. As a direct result of the failure of the MPS to carry out timely investigations into the activities of the previous Mayor public confidence in their will to investigate such matters is very low indeed.

We can be 100% sure that Tower Hamlets council have not got clue one as to the specifics of the radicalisation of Shamima Begum.

One reason is that a Serious Case Review (SCR) into the case of Shemima Begum or any of the other girls ever undertaken. No SCR, no answers.

Case does not meet SCR threshold

An SCR is triggered when a child has been abused or neglected to the extent of resulting in serious harm or death and there is cause for concern as to the way in which the relevant authority or persons have worked together to safeguard the child.

LW only discovered that there was no SCR into the Shemima Begum case from listening to Sara Khan, the government’s Lead Commissioner for Countering Extremism, on the Today programme (listen from 1:34). Sara Khan stated that Tower Hamlets council “found that this [Shemima Begum] case did not meet the threshold for a serious case review.”

WTF? How can the case of a schoolchild being radicalised to such an extent that she joins ISIS not meet the threshold for a Serious Case Review?

Tower Hamlets Council has issued a formal response stating that ‘Shamima Begum was not known to social services prior to leaving for Syria as the police, the school the NHS and other bodies had not raised any concerns about her welfare.’

A wider review was undertaken by all the authorities involved ‘…in order to investigate what had happened and stop others following in their footsteps.’

Were the results of this review ever made public? We don’t think so. Trotting out the ‘confidential for security reasons’ line is not good enough either. Redact it by all means but our communities need to know that the details of Shemima’s radicalisation and the other girls are known – and that we all know and understand.

Tower Hamlets council is quick to mention that ’during our most recent Ofsted inspection in 2017, Tower Hamlets Council’s work to help prevent radicalisation was praised..’ neatly sidestepping the reality that earlier in 2017 Ofsted condemned its Children’s Services as inadequate.

Ofsted reported that politicians and council officers of all ranks were guilty of widespread and serious failures in the services provided to children who need help and protection in Tower Hamlets.

In other words children like Shamina Begum. (The recent justified outrage at the cheek of an unrepentant 19-year-old Shemima wanting to return to the UK neatly sidestepped the fact that her decision was made when she was 15.)

The previous Ofsted Inspection of Tower Hamlets Children’s Services was in June 2012 where it’s overall effectiveness was rated as ‘Good’ and capacity for improvement as ‘Outstanding’ (Source: Ofsted)

The council is also keen to let us all know that a Home Office Prevent Peer Review in 2018 found Tower Hamlets Council to have an ‘extremely strong approach to Prevent’ with ‘strong leadership from the Mayor and Chief Executive.’

Not good enough. If Prevent failed to prevent radicalisation then it needs to be changed or supplemented by a model specific to the needs of our borough that does work.

Only in the last few weeks, Tower Hamlets Council has demonstrated the continuing failure of its Children’s Services when it was revealed that an IR35 tax dispute contributed to the three-year delay in publication of the SCR into the death of a 13-week-old baby.

Start asking hard questions

In the meantime Tower Hamlets diverse communities, regardless of faith, origin or beliefs all need to face up to our duty to stop our children being radicalised. Part of that duty is asking hard questions of politicians who would dodge their responsibilities as elected representatives by pretending all is well in our borough because it is politically expedient to do so.

At Council this week Cllr. Rabina Khan (Lib Dem, Shadwell) will propose a motion Regarding Failures in Tower Hamlets’ Child Safeguarding, seconded by Cllr. Andrew Wood (Conservative, Canary Wharf) that states in part that ‘Our concerns are these unacceptable delays in reviewing and understanding failures in the safeguarding of children in Tower Hamlets mean that we do not learn lessons which might help us avoid similar tragedies and a lack of transparency that seems to hide the SCR process from public scrutiny.’

Shaking the Local Children’s Safeguarding Board by the scruff of the neck so it actually does its job is just one step towards proper safeguarding of children at risk in Tower Hamlets.

Public enquiry into radicalisation needed

A full and open public enquiry into how nine young girls, all from the same school, were radicalised in our borough is the next step.

At the moment because no SCR was ever undertaken it is guaranteed that we will never know. This is neither open, transparent or honest.

The decision to hold such an enquiry is not one that can or should be taken by local politicians but by central government.

Too often in recent years borough residents have been failed by the establishment’s seeming lack of interest in what really goes on in east London. That failure cannot be allowed to persist.

A public enquiry into how nine schoolgirls were radicalised right under our noses is a starting point to understanding what happened and so stop it ever happening again.

References

“A Serious Case Review (SCR) is a locally conducted multi-agency review in circumstances where a child has been abused or neglected, resulting in serious harm or death and there is cause for concern as to the way in which the relevant authority or persons have worked together to safeguard the child.” (Source: Serious Case Review Crown Prosecution Service)

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