UK

Missing Syria girls' families demand police apology

Kadiza Sultana, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum (l-r) Image copyright Met Police
Image caption Kadiza Sultana, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum (l-r) left Britain in February

The parents of the three UK schoolgirls missing in Syria have demanded an apology from the Metropolitan Police.

It comes after the force wrongly said the families had known a close friend of the girls was already in Syria before they disappeared from London.

The families insist that if they had known this, they may have been able to stop Shamima Begum and Amira Abase, both 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16.

The Met was unable to say if a formal apology request had been received.

Shamima, Amira, and Kadiza, all pupils at Bethnal Green Academy, left their homes on 17 February.

They flew to Istanbul and are believed to have entered Syria within days, probably to join Islamic State.

Police clarification

On Friday, the girls' families criticised police for not passing on "vital" information they say may have helped them to intervene in the trio's plans.

The following day, the Met acknowledged it could have handled differently attempts to contact the families.

But it had to amend a statement on the issue after initially saying that the families had been informed, by the deputy head of the girls' school, that a fellow pupil had disappeared to Syria in December.

It later clarified, "following further discussions with Bethnal Green Academy", that the teacher had in fact informed them only that the girl was missing.

The solicitor for the girls' parents, Tasnime Akunjee, said it was a "disgrace" that the original press release had effectively accused them of lying.

'Source of upset'

"The families have expressed that the deepest source of upset in this affair has been the failure by the police to inform them of the fact that the first girl to go missing had gone to Syria - a fact that was only known to them after their own children had also gone missing," he said.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe will appear before MPs on Tuesday

"It is precisely the failure to communicate this key piece of information which disabled the family from intervention in the children's plans."

He accused the police of a "cacophony of error... in the handling of this matter".

"One would hope the Met would have expended greater resources checking their facts and getting it right... rather than allow for 'error' to further damage the relationship between the police and the families of the girls and indeed the school."

He said when Met commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe appeared before a committee of MPs to discuss counter-terrorism on Tuesday, he should "do the right thing by these distraught parents - and say sorry".

Potential witnesses

Shamima, Amira, and Kadiza were among seven girls spoken to by police at Bethnal Green Academy as potential witnesses after their friend went missing.

The 15-year-old girl, who has not been named, flew from Gatwick to Istanbul on 6 December and then travelled to the region of Syria controlled by Islamic State.

Police said all of the girls had been treated as potential witnesses who may have had information about their friend.

In February, the girls were also given letters to take to their parents asking permission for counter-terrorism detectives to take handwritten statements about their friend's lifestyle and beliefs.

The letters, which made it clear that the girls were not being investigated, were found hidden in their bedrooms only after the three had left home.

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