It can now be revealed that the trial of the parents of a British Isis fighter known as “Jihadi Jack”, John Letts and Sally Lane, was delayed for two years after they commenced a legal challenge relating to the wording of the charges laid against them.
The end of their trial on Friday means it can be reported how the couple commenced a legal challenge in 2016, which went all the way to the Supreme Court over the wording of their charges.
Letts, 58, and Lane, 57, had appeared before magistrates for funding terrorism in 2016 when their lawyers launched the challenge which delayed their trial for two years. Last week, they became the first people convicted for transferring cash to loved ones living in the so-called Islamic State, but claimed they had been “let down badly” by authorities and “tried to do the right thing”.
They were prosecuted under the Terrorism Act 2000, which makes it a criminal offence punishable by up to 14 years in prison to transfer money where there is “reasonable cause to suspect that it will or may be used for the purposes of terrorism”.
Their lawyers had argued pre-trial that in order to be guilty of the offence, the court would have to be sure that they genuinely believed their son was not involved in violent jihad, regardless of evidence to the contrary.
A judge initially dismissed the argument, saying that prosecutors did not need to prove that they “actually entertained that suspicion”, but Letts and Lane took the case to the Court of Appeal and then the Supreme Court.
They lost at all stages, with the Supreme Court dismissing the appeal for the final time in July 2018 which allowed the criminal proceedings against Lane and Letts to restart.
Judges ruled that the case rested on what any reasonable person would have known or suspected the money was for, given the information the defendants had at the time.
By the time they launched their legal challenge, they had already been told by Jack himself that he was in Syria and viewed Facebook posts showing him wearing combat fatigues in Raqqa and threatening to behead British soldiers.
Their Old Bailey trial later heard details of how they had been told of Jack Letts’ radicalisation after he converted to Islam as a teenager, and urged to seize his passport.
Instead of heeding the warnings, they bought him a plane ticket for a “grand adventure” in the Middle East in 2014 and transferred him several sums of money, including after he reached Isis territory.
But Lane and Letts continued claiming their son had been wrongly labelled a jihadi, going on hunger strike after he was detained by Kurdish forces in Syria in 2017.
They unveiled a banner reading “Free Jack Letts” outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London and started a petition claiming their son had “worked in hiding against Isis for two years”.
Judge Nicholas Hilliard QC changed Letts’ bail conditions to let him travel to Canada to lobby the government there to help his son – who has dual British-Canadian citizenship – to be released.
After that failed, his parents’ lawyers tried to argue that Jack should be transferred to Britain to give evidence at his parents’ trial.
But prosecutors dismissed the argument, with Alison Morgan QC quoting a voicemail message in which Jack allegedly said: “To be honest, the whole idea of putting pressure on the British government to come and save me is not something I wanted to do or something I thought was clever.”
The trial was delayed further in September last year over fears it would be prejudiced by a protest outside the Old Bailey.
Supporters of Lane and Letts stood outside the court with banners reading “Doing what any parent would do to save their child is not funding terrorism“ and ”Families supporting Sally and John“.
Judge Hilliard said it was ”foolish and misguided“ and added to the financial cost of delay, warning that demonstrators could be arrested.
When the trial did finally get underway at the Old Bailey in March, Letts declined to give evidence and his barrister claimed the prosecution was “inhumane to the point of being cruel”.
The court heard that Letts, an organic farmer, and former Oxfam fundraising officer Lane had ignored warnings from police that they would be prosecuted for sending Jack money.
But prosecutors said evidence showed “that both of the defendants knew where Jack was and who he was associating with”.
“It was not open to these defendants to take the law into their own hands and to send money to their son, whatever their own reasons and motives may have been,” Ms Morgan told jurors.
Judge Hilliard told the pair they “lost sight of realities” as he handed them a suspended sentence for funding terrorism on Friday.
They maintained their defence after walking free from the Old Bailey, saying in a statement: “We want to make it clear that we have not been convicted of funding terrorism.
“We have been convicted of sending money to our son where there were reasonable grounds to suspect the money might have been used for terrorist purposes.
“No one during our trial even suggested that the £223 that we actually managed to send to Jack was in fact used for terrorism.”
Lane and Letts claimed they had been “let down badly by the police and the government” and had “tried to do the right thing”.
Reiterating appeals to return the son to the UK from “limbo” in Syria, they said: “We are committed to help Jack return home. We will continue our campaign to help those that the government has turned its back on.”
The couple, who lived in Oxford and sent their son to the prestigious Cherwell School, received a grant from a Prince of Wales fund for their Heritage Harvest and Oxford Bread Group in 2011.
Detective Chief Superintendent Kath Barnes, head of Counter Terrorism Policing South East, said the case showed that “it really doesn’t matter who you are or what your reasons are, it’s not OK to break the law”.
“You absolutely understand the bond between parent and child but you can’t break the law and in this case there were a lot of warnings, a lot of signs and a lot of explicit concerns given to John and Sally,” she told The Independent. “It was just that they almost didn’t want to see it.”
While the Letts case attracted wide publicity, another similar case involving the brother of a 16-year-old jihadi bride in Syria received less attention.
In February, mentally ill Salim Wakil jailed for two-and-a-half-years months for sending his sister £2,500 after she claimed to be fleeing Isis in fear her husband would kill her.
Update- John Letts and Sally Lane
A previous version of this article reported that John Letts and Sally Lane had tried to “block” their prosecution for funding terrorism. Mr Letts and Ms Lane has informed us that the legal challenge which they commenced before their trial began, was intended to seek clarification on the proper interpretation of the wording of s. 17 of the Terrorism Act, and was not an attempt to “block” their prosecution. We are happy to clarify this, and have amended the article accordingly.