Belfast Telegraph

Shamima Begum: Banning IS bride from Britain will only swell ranks of terrorists, warns former head of Special Branch

Child protection expert Jim Gamble
Child protection expert Jim Gamble
Shamima Begum reads a copy of the Home Office letter announcing the stripping of her British citizenship

By Suzanne Breen, Political Editor

A former head of Special Branch in Belfast has warned that the Government's decision not to allow a teenage Islamic State bride to come home will act as a recruiting sergeant for terrorists.

Jim Gamble, who is now a child protection expert, claimed that the history of Northern Ireland proved the danger of "knee-jerk responses" and that it would have been wiser to show compassion to Shamima Begum.

Mr Gamble said that while Ms Begum was "hard to like", she was only 15 when she was groomed by Islamic State.

While she must face the consequences of her actions, the Government's decision to revoke her British citizenship was not the answer and "the UK is better than that", he added.

The 19-year-old, now in a refugee camp in Syria, said yesterday she was shocked by the move.

Mr Gamble acknowledged that his view on Ms Begum would not be popular in some quarters, but he urged people not to respond to the case with "raw emotion".

"Given my background in policing in Northern Ireland, I've seen how we've got things right and how we've got them wrong," he said.

"A knee-jerk response in the aftermath of something terrible can often act as a recruiting sergeant for those who wish to draw young volunteers as cannon fodder into their cause.

"I think we need to pause and reflect on the realities of the Shamima Begum case."

The former Special Branch chief, who went on to become chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, said Ms Begum's age at the time she fled Britain shouldn't be forgotten.

She left her east London home in February 2015 with two other schoolgirls.

"She was a 15-year-old when she was radicalised and indoctrinated into a cause which led her to travel to Syria and become an Isis bride," Mr Gamble said.

"Fifteen-year-olds can't vote, marry or legally consent to sex in this country. We recognise that they lack the maturity to make such choices.

"Logically, we cannot therefore deem her decision to join Isis as an adult one that should be considered binding for the rest of her life."

Mr Gamble said that Ms Begum needed to "face the consequences" of her actions.

"That may involve a balanced criminal justice response. She is now 19 and is of an age where she can be held criminally responsible for her acts. She could face proportionate punishment and future monitoring," he said.

"I am not saying we forgive her. I am not saying I like her. She is hard to like.

"Indeed, she makes a reasoned approach very difficult because she's showing no regret or remorse.

"But she still should not be banned from this country. She should definitely be allowed to come home. Her baby son should not suffer because of her actions. Our message should be one of hope, not hate."

Mr Gamble said "resorting to jingoism" was not helpful in fighting Islamic terrorism. "We really need to consider the message we are sending out on this one," he stressed. "We have to show we are different to Isis, that we are better.

"If we don't, we will strengthen that which we want to defeat and we will weaken our own cause.

"We also have to apply our own legal and moral standards. If a child was groomed by a gang and her sexual abuse normalised by them to the point she thought what was happening was okay, would we blame her when she became 18?

"Too many people, including those who should know better, are letting their emotions rule.

"I spent one half of my career fighting terrorism and the other half safe-guarding children.

"This is a time for clear heads and cool decisions."

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