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Jihadi Jack parents guilty of funding terrorism

John Letts and Sally Lane refused to believe their son Jack, 18, had become a dangerous extremist when they allowed him to travel, a court heard.

Sally Lane and John Letts (Yui Mok/PA)
Sally Lane and John Letts (Yui Mok/PA)

The parents of a Muslim convert dubbed Jihadi Jack are facing jail after being found guilty of funding terrorism.

Organic farmer John Letts, 58, and former Oxfam fundraising officer Sally Lane, 57, refused to believe their 18-year-old son Jack had become a dangerous extremist when they allowed him to travel, the Old Bailey heard.

They ignored repeated warnings he had joined Islamic State in Syria and sent – or tried to send – a total of £1,723 for him despite being told by police three times not to.

Prosecutor Alison Morgan QC said the couple, from Oxford, “turned a blind eye to the obvious” – that their son had joined the murderous terrorist group by the time they sent £223 in September 2015.

The defendants claimed their son, who suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder, was trapped in Raqqa and by December 2015 when they tried to send more funds, they were acting under “duress” fearing he was in mortal danger.

A jury deliberated for nearly 20 hours to find the defendants guilty of one charge of funding terrorism in in September 2015 but not guilty of the same charge in December 2015.

Jurors were discharged after they were unable to decide on a third charge relating to an attempt to send money in January 2016.

Prosecutor Alison Morgan QC said the Crown would not seek a retrial and asked for the charge to lie on file.

There were gasps in the public gallery but defendants made no reaction in the dock.

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Jack Letts posing in Raqqa, Syria (Counter Terrorism Policing South East/PA)

The court had heard how Jack Letts left the family home in May 2014 and embarked on what his parents saw as a “grand adventure” to learn Arabic in Jordan.

Before his departure, a friend of the teenager had tried to warn his parents about his growing extremism and urged them to confiscate his passport.

From Jordan, Jack Letts moved to Kuwait and married Asmaa, the daughter of a tribal elder, in Iraq before travelling on to Syria.

Lane told jurors she was “horrified” when he rang her to say he was in Syria in September 2014.

She said: “I screamed at him, ‘How could you be so stupid? You will get killed. You will be beheaded’.”

John Letts begged his son to come home, telling him: “A father should never live to see his son buried.”

He went on to accuse him of being a “pawn … helping spread hatred, pain, anger, suffering and violence”, jurors heard.

In early 2015, police raided the family home and warned the defendants not to send any property or money to their son.

Jack Letts ranted about it to his parents, saying police would “die in your rage”.

In July 2015, he posted on Facebook that he would like to perform a “martyrdom operation” on a group of British soldiers, and threatened to behead his old school friend Linus Doubtfire, who had joined the Army.

When challenged by his parents, he said: “I would happily kill each and every one of Linus Unit personally… I honestly want to cut Linus head off.”

Ms Morgan said it was “ridiculous” to claim the message had been posted by someone else using Jack Letts’s account, because he even knew the name of the family cat.

At the time, Lane conceded in a message to her son it was “naive of us to believe” he was not a fighter.

The defendants also consulted an academic expert who told them it was “highly improbable” that Jack Letts had not engaged in military activity, the court heard.

In spite of the mounting evidence,  Lane sent £223 after Jack Letts gave her his word the money would have “nothing to do with jihad”.

Police followed up with a second warning, telling Lane that “sending money to Jack is the same as sending money to Isis”.

But in December 2015, Jack Letts began indicating he would like to leave Syria and told of a “big misguidance in the state”.

John Letts told a family liaison officer that Jack Letts was “desperate to get out” and in “danger”, and was advised he could send him money to leave.

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Jack Letts’s comment on a Facebook photo of a group of British Army soldiers (Counter Terrorism Policing South East/PA)

The advice was quickly corrected and the defendants were issued with a written notice stating: “The police do not endorse or authorise the sending of any monies to Jack Letts.”

Lane told her son: “We know you are in danger so we feel we have no choice but to help you and send it.”

But when she asked him to spell out the danger he was in, Jack Letts responded: “Define danger.”

She went on to attempt two money transfers which were blocked, and the defendants were arrested.

John Letts declined to give evidence, but his barrister Henry Blaxland QC told jurors the prosecution was “inhumane to the point of being cruel”.

He said: “These parents have to all intents and purposes lost their son. They are having to deal with the trauma.”

The jury was not told that father-of-one Jack Letts, now aged 23, is being held by Kurdish authorities in northern Syria accused of being a member of IS.

Detective Chief Superintendent Kath Barnes said the conviction sends a clear message, adding: “It’s not for us to choose which laws to follow and which not to and when it’s OK to break the law.”

She said investigators had a “huge empathy” for the Letts family, adding: “Fundamentally John Letts and Sally Lane are not bad people.

“It’s hard to imagine the kind of agony they must be going through because of the choices their son made.”

Judge Nicholas Hilliard QC warned the starting point for sentence was two years in jail.

Ms Morgan suggested an aggravating factor was the defendants had been warned before they sent money for their son.

Defence barrister Richard Thomas argued the offence was in the lowest category and suggested a community order could be appropriate in the case.

In mitigation for Lane, he said she was a loving mother who had shown her “trenchant” opposition to Islamic State.

He said: “These proceedings running at the same time as the agony of their son’s predicament is a tremendous strain for someone of good character.”

He said Lane would have to live with the stigma of a terrorism conviction.

Mr Blaxland said there would be long-term consequences for John Letts, who has an international reputation in organic wheat.

Jenny Hopkins from the CPS said: “It is natural for parents to care for their son but Sally Lane and John Letts were warned multiple times of Jack’s activities and told not to send him money or risk prosecution.

“They chose to ignore that advice and at one point set up a fake identity to send him money.

“This case shows that people are breaking the law if they give money that could be used for terrorist purposes even if they don’t sympathise with terrorism.

“The lessons are simple: individuals should not travel to fight in war zones and those at home should not send them money.”

PA

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