Ministers are under growing pressure to disclose how many British jihadis who have returned from Syria have been prosecuted amid fears hundreds are roaming free on UK streets.
The Home Office has repeatedly refused to publish its latest figures showing how many returnees have faced UK courts, claiming it does not hold the data.
This is despite the fact that in 2016, the department was able to reveal how one in eight jihadists who had travelled to Syria and Iraq had been prosecuted on their return to the UK.
Last night politicians urged the Government to ‘come clean’ on the numbers ahead of a debate on the issue of returnees in the Commons today (Weds).
Labour MP John Woodcock, who called for the debate, said the Government’s failure to disclose the figures heightened fears only a ‘fraction’ have been prosecuted.
Labour MP John Woodcock, who called for the debate, said the Government’s failure to disclose the figures on how many British jihadis had been prosecuted on their return heightened fears only a ‘fraction’ have been prosecuted
He said: ‘The Government’s refusal is heightening fears that it has only been possible to amass sufficient admissible evidence against a fraction, despite there being no other credible explanation for their visit.
‘Instead of hiding behind tough talk, the Government should come clean over the number of terror suspects who are being allowed to go free when they return to the UK because there isn’t enough hard evidence to prosecute.’
Some 850 UK citizens are believed to have travelled from the UK to warzones in Syria and Iraq. Around 400 of those have come back to Britain.
In May 2016 the Home Office responded to a parliamentary question about the number of prosecutions of returning jihadists.
Lord Keen of Elie revealed that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had only successfully prosecuted 35 cases involving 54 such defendants.
He said 13 prosecutions involving 30 defendants were ongoing, and that the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland was also dealing with one case.
But since those figures were published, the Home Office has refused requests by the Daily Mail to reveal the updated figure.
Responding to Lib Dem Sir Ed Davey in October last year, security minister Ben Wallace said: ‘The Home Office Statistical Bulletin publishes data about convictions quarterly but does not distinguish those which relate to Syria and Daesh.’ He said official figures ‘do not show how many were Syria or Daesh related’.
It is understood many of the returnees have not be prosecuted because there is not enough evidence, or in some cases because it is claimed they were women and children forced to travel to the war zone. Those who return are monitored by the security services to some degree.
Mr Woodcock wants the Government should to create an Australian style law making it an offence to travel to war zones without a good excuse.
He added: ‘It is time to turn the tables on the terrorists by considering making it an offence to travel to designated terror hot spots without a verifiable excuse.
‘Under Australia’s declared areas offence, Australian citizens have faced a ten year jail term if they go to Iraq or Syria during the conflict with Daesh.
‘That’s exactly the approach the government should examine to strengthen our weak laws if it is serious about doing whatever is necessary to keep the public safe.’