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Grounded girls go to Syria 3 school

Teenage girls grounded by a judge after fears were raised about them travelling to Syria are pupils at the same school as three girls already thought to have fled to join the Islamic State, the High Court has heard.

Police raised concerns in February following the disappearance of Kadiza Sultana, 16, Shamima Begum, 15, and Amira Abase, 15, from their east London homes.

Officers said the three girls were pupils at Bethnal Green Academy in Bethnal Green, east London.

Earlier this month, Mr Justice Hayden barred five other girls - three aged 16 and two 15-year-olds - from leaving the jurisdiction of England and Wales following a hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London.

He had heard that four were at a secondary school - and one was home-educated.

The judge had made an order saying the five girls could not be identified.

But today he said it could be revealed that the four girls who were at school were also pupils at Bethnal Green Academy.

Mr Justice Hayden had made the five girls wards of court - a move which prevented them from leaving the jurisdiction of England and Wales without the permission of a judge.

The judge took action following an application from social services bosses at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

He was told that social workers had raised concerns about the five girls showing an interest in travelling to Syria and he said sometimes the law had to intervene to protect young people from themselves.

The judge has continued to analyse the five girls' cases at further hearings throughout this week - and has heard evidence from counter terrorism specialists at the Metropolitan Police.

He ruled that the school could be identified at a hearing today - following an application by the Press Association news agency.

Mr Justice Hayden has also recently b arred a 16-year-old boy, whose two elder brothers had been killed waging jihad in Syria, from travelling abroad by making him a ward of court.

The judge made that ruling at a separate hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London earlier this month after local authority social services staff raised fears that the teenager could travel to Syria.

He said the youngster could not be named.

But he said the local authority which had applied for the teenager to be made a ward of court was Brighton and Hove City Council.

Mr Justice Hayden said the "type of harm" he had been asked to evaluate at the hearings relating to the five girls and the 16-year-old boy was a "different facet of vulnerability" to that which family court judges had dealt with before. But he said "conventional safeguarding principles" still offered the best protection to children.

He said lawyers, social services staff should follow "core principles" when asking judges to impose limits on children's ability to travel.

"The issues have profound consequences, not limited to the individuals concerned, and will frequently require a delicate balancing of competing and potentially conflicting rights and interests," said the judge.

"All involved must recognise that in this particular process it is the interest of the individual child that is paramount. This cannot be eclipsed by wider considerations of counter terrorism policy or operations, but it must be recognised that the decision the court is being asked to take can only be arrived at against an informed understanding of that wider canvas."

He added: "It will never be satisfactory, in applications of this kind, merely to offer verbal assurance, through counsel or any other individual, that the police, security forces or those involved in counter terrorism, are aware of and support the application.

"There must ... always be 'hard' evidence, i.e. evidence which is cogent and coherent, placed before the court and capable of being subject to appropriate scrutiny. The format of the evidence may vary from case to case. It may require a police presence in court. There may be the need for police/counter terrorism officers to be represented."

And he said such cases would "always require public scrutiny" and went on: "Transparency, that is to say the attendance of accredited press officials in court, remains the presumption here, as it now is in all aspects of the work of the family justice system."

He stressed the importance of "co-ordinated strategy" between "safeguarding agencies" such as police and social services departments.

"The importance of coordinated strategy, predicated on open and respectful cooperation between all the safeguarding agencies involved, simply cannot be overstated," said the judge.

"An ongoing dialogue in which each party respects, and I make no apology for repeating the word respect, the contribution of the other, is most likely to achieve good and informed decision-making."

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