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Reality Check: Britain's youngest terror suspects

Police officers on street behind police tape Image copyright Getty Images

Two 14-year-old boys from Northallerton have appeared in court charged with conspiracy to murder following a counter-terrorism investigation in North Yorkshire.

Are they the youngest in the Britain to have been arrested and charged in such circumstances? Surprising though it may sound, they are not.

In 2015, a teenager from Blackburn was charged with inciting terrorism by encouraging another teenager in Australia to carry out an attack there.

"Boy S" was 14 years and eight months old at the time of his arrest in March of that year and a month older when he was charged. By the time he had pleaded guilty and received the juvenile version of a life sentence, he had turned 15.

The two boys who appeared in court in Leeds, known as A and B, are a little older than Boy S. Assuming their case progresses, they will have turned 15 by the time they face trial.

Very few of those arrested on suspicion of committing a terrorism-related offence are under 18 years old. In the year to June 2016 across England, Wales and Scotland, only 12 of the 222 arrested under counter-terrorism powers were younger than 18.

Since 11 September 2001, more than 3,650 people have been arrested in counter-terrorism investigations in the Great Britain. Of those:

  • 132 were under the age of 18
  • 35 of these juveniles were subsequently charged
  • 18 of them were ultimately convicted of a crime

The rise of the so-called Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq prompted a slight shift in the age range of those coming under suspicion in the UK.

Young jihadis

The group wanted to attract young people from across Europe to its cause - it wanted fit men to fight and young women willing to start families.

That led to more younger people trying to travel to Syria - and that was reflected to some extent in the corresponding arrests statistics.

Not all of those who were arrested were investigated for links to jihadism. One significant investigation from 2016 was focused on the activities of a 17-year-old who had become a follower of the banned neo-Nazi group National Action.

Anonymity

Why is the media not naming the two boys who have appeared in court on Thursday? The law prohibits identifying anyone under the age of 18 who is charged or convicted of a criminal offence unless a judge gives permission.

It's very rare for such an anonymity restriction to be lifted, because judges tend to take the view that the very youngest offenders should be given the chance to be rehabilitated as they mature.

There are exceptions, including the decision to name in 1993 the 10-year-olds who murdered James Bulger.

More recently, a judge refused to lift a reporting restriction prohibiting the media from naming two teenage girls who tortured a vulnerable woman to death in Hartlepool.

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