Police and social workers dealing with the family of two British Muslim teenagers who died fighting in Syria failed to realise the children were being radicalised, a serious case review has concluded.
There was little “recognition” that Abdullah Deghayes, 18, and his younger brother Jaffar, 17, or their three brothers were at risk of radicalisation in Brighton, the report said.
Despite monitoring the family for several years, officials missed clear opportunities to spot their growing vulnerability to jihadist exploitation. A year after deciding that Jaffar was “not at risk of being drawn into terror-related activities” he disappeared with Abdullah and a third youth and travelled to Syria via Turkey where they joined the al-Nusra front, a group affiliated to al-Qaida.
Both brothers were killed in fighting within months of each other in 2014. Their elder brother Amer is also believed to be in Syria, having told ITV News he would continue on the path of jihad “until I get killed”.
A serious case review, commissioned by the Brighton & Hove Local Children Safeguarding Board, is the first into a case of radicalisation of young British Muslims. Critics say it highlights some of the shortcomings of the government’s Respect programme, which was designed to prevent disaffected young Muslims carrying out acts of terrorism in the UK or overseas.
The safeguarding review found that officials, including police, youth and social workers, failed to spot the radicalisation, failed to understand the importance of Islam in their lives, failed to share key information and take proper action when “extremist” views were displayed.
Graham Bartlett, the chair of the Safeguarding Children Board, said: “The system as a whole let these young boys down and it’s a wake up call to these agencies to work better together.”
These included an incident in 2012 when Jaffar, after being arrested for making threats to kill a shopkeeper, told police that “judgment day” was coming for all who “did not follow Allah”.
In 2013, a school raised concerns that some youths were being paid to convert to Islam and expressing strong anti-semitic views. A youth worker also raised the alarm about the way one of the Deghayes brothers criticised Americans.
The report described both instances as “missed opportunities to learn more about the activities of the young people and to understand the links between young people in Brighton”. It adds: “Moreover at that time there was little local or national knowledge or understanding of the risks to children from being exploited into radicalisation to and go and fight in wars elsewhere in the world.”
The family, originally from Libya, came to the UK after facing persecution for their political views from the then-ruling Gaddafi regime. They came to the attention of the authorities after repeated allegations of domestic abuse were made.
It says the family experienced repeated instances of racist abuse while living in the Saltdean area of Brighton. The boys were dealt with harshly by their father. Social workers became more involved when two of the boys said their father made them get up at 4.30am to study the Qur’an and would punish them if he felt they were not paying sufficient attention. Punishments meted out included being whipped with electrical wire.
Racist incidents increased in 2007 when the boy’s uncle, Omar Deghayes, was released from Guantánamo Bay after being held for five years after his arrest in Pakistan. His return to Brighton led to an angry backlash locally where far-right groups reportedly whipped up anger. Graffiti reading “Behead all Muslims” was daubed near their home and when it was attacked by a mob, police installed CCTV.
Social workers reported that it became increasingly difficult dealing with the family who felt their complaints were not dealt with adequately.
As the boys’ behaviour deteriorated further, youth and social workers expressed their “helplessness” at having no solutions. They expressed “shock and disbelief” when it was discovered the brothers had gone to Syria. “This possibility had never been identified and there was also no recognition that the siblings were vulnerable to radicalisation, travel or participation in conflict.”
Spurred into action after the boys’ reported deaths, child protection teams identified a further 26 individuals at risk of travel to conflict areas in the Middle East.
The report identifies 13 shortcomings, including police inability to share data about the boys’ increasing criminality with other agencies dealing with them. It also highlighted an “atmosphere of suspicion” between counter-terror police and other agencies. Brighton and Hove council services had insufficient knowledge and understanding of minority ethnic and faith communities, it says.
Tariq Jung, of the Brighton and Hove Muslim Forum, said: “We were not really aware of the type of things going on then but we’ve got to work better together to stop this happening ever again.”
Sussex police said on Thursday that they now had a “joined up” approach to helping vulnerable young people.