This Human Voice story forms part of CAGE’S project Separating Families: How PREVENT seeks the removal of children
See the rest of the report here.
Names have been changes to protect identities.
My wife and I and our three children, who were 9, 8 and 5, were arrested on 11 January in Turkey while we were on holiday. We were arrested at our hotel and we were on our way to the pool. I was in my swimming trunks and my kids in their floaties. We had no idea why we were being arrested.
We were separated in prison. When I asked why they didn’t let us go in time for our flight, they said they were afraid they were going to get into trouble, because by then they realised they’d made a mistake with us. My brother and CAGE were also trying to look for us.
We heard later that the Turkish authorities all denied where we were, and the British denied that I had been arrested. It’s easy to see how people disappear.
Eventually, they came to some sort of agreement with Britain and we went home. When we landed, about 11 security officers came in and took us off the plane.
Again, they separated us. They separated me and my wife, and they took our children separately. We didn’t really know what was going on, and we tried to explain that all of this was a mistake.
But they questioned us all for about five hours. They asked me all about my beliefs. Mine have changed over the years. I have been a practicing Muslim from age 21, and I have moved from a Hanafi background to a Sufi background, then I went on to study more contemporary studies. So, my views have changed. Now, I like the idea of left-wing politics.
The whole time, they wouldn’t give us much information about our kids, or what they were doing with them. It was very stressful. We asked about them. They kept saying “The children are so talkative, they have given us so much information”.
But I knew this was a lie, because we don’t talk to our kids much about politics. They are too young for those things.
But they asked the children other questions. They even asked my daughter if we hit them, and if we leave them in our home alone. We don’t do either of those things, so the answer was always no.
Still, the Schedule 7 stop went from terrorism, to incitement to terrorism, to whether we left our kids alone in the house.
After we picked up our technical devices from the police a couple of weeks later, social services told them there was cause for concern regarding our children and ability to care for them.
Social workers came to our home and tried to question the children alone
We were surprised. It had been clear that were no concerns about extremism and so on after the Schedule 7 stop. They had seemed to be satisfied that we were not a threat.
But social services came to my house. When they did, they asked the children all types of questions about life at home, what we do, what we say, what we watch.
They wanted to speak to the children alone, but my wife and I wouldn’t allow it. I argued that they’d had a time limit in which they had to intervene. We had looked at the law, and my wife had seen that based on the Schedule 7 law, they had three or four months to intervene after a stop.
If it was such a concern and risk, why would they only have intervened with us six months down the line?
I had my solicitor with me. When the social worker came, and she saw the lawyer, she quickly shoved her papers away. She didn’t want the lawyer to see. Because the solicitor was present, we said they had no right to intervene six months later. So, she left.
A bit later, we got a letter in the post, from the head of social services in Tower Hamlets, who was present at the airport at Schedule 7.
This letter said they wanted to take us to court. It said there was a special procedure, that it would be forced on us, and that it meant there would be a court order.
They told us they have cause for concern, one of which was the risk of flight. This, even though we voluntarily handed our passports over! That was weird.
To top it all, my son, who was 8 then, had been diagnosed with cancer and had spent three months in intensive care. He was in hospital and he’d had a cardiac arrest. They were aware of that, and yet they still said we were at risk of flight!
We felt like all the hospital staff were spying on us
My wife and I like to question everything, and at the hospital, we had asked the doctors lots of questions about our son’s medications – and that, they said, was a concern for them.
We missed one appointment, and they brought that up. But we had missed the appointment, and before we had phoned and rescheduled and we hadn’t missed the second appointment.
But this just shows that the doctors and nurses were also co-operating with them.
But you see, these were petty things. We could tell they were looking and looking – because they couldn’t find anything: there was no extremism, no problems with parenting and so on.
When they asked about why we questioned medications, I asked the head social worker if she would do the same thing if it was her child. Her face just went red. So, they took that bit out.
My wife and I fought them. We argued and argued. We even asked them how my kids would be a risk if they had already been questioned and there had been no concern then.
We asked for the report of that five-hour questioning under Schedule 7 and to this day they haven’t given it to us. It’s because they have nothing. Because there is nothing.
Anyway, after this meeting we agreed for them to come into the house again. We did not allow them to interview our kids in a private room. We were in the living room and they were in the dining room, and the two rooms are joined.
She told them to draw three houses, a sad house and angry house and a happy house. They had nothing to put into the sad and angry house. Alhumdullilah, they could only draw the happy house. When she asked them about the sad and angry house, they said they didn’t have anything to show.
But they went on. They said: “We don’t have experience in religion, so we need a specialist to assess you and your children”.
We had co-operated all along but this was far too much.
We said, to hell with it. This is garbage. We fought and fought.
We said, there’s no way they need to see a specialist. Eventually we agreed that the specialist would only assess me and my wife. So, they presented us with two options: there was an assessor who had a Barelvi background, and then there was the guy who had basically engineered the ERG22+.
We said no way. They said, if you don’t agree, we will force it on you.
At this stage, we contacted CAGE. We also kept rejecting the assessors they were sending us, because we knew their background and ideas, and we would have had our children removed for sure.
By then they realised that my wife and I are quite strong minded.
Finally, we agreed on an assessor. He came in and spent two days with us. He looked at our house and the books we were studying and after he put his assessment through, the social workers dropped the case.
The assessment said there was no cause for concern. Alhumdullillah.
Outcomes and advice for others
It was very stressful. My wife and I lost a lot of sleep.
On top of this, we were also dealing with a child diagnosed with cancer. We were staying in a hospital, every week, two days in hospital. Then we had social services, calling us, and hospital social services watching us. They were all reporting on us, all of them.
We couldn’t relax, and we were under watch constantly. It was a constant worry. When hospital staff overhear something out of context, then they look at you the wrong way. I was always nervous. I was always worrying about what the nurses were saying to my children. We have nothing to hide, but still I was so worried that my children would say something that would be misconstrued.
We felt like criminals.
But my wife is very strong, and she would fight with them. She is very strong.
Alhumdullillah everything was dropped and as soon it was dropped it was a great relief.
When you are faced with these things, you have to be united as a family.
You should both, mother and father, have different solicitors. Also, you shouldn’t always take the solicitors’ advice. Sometimes you have to be a bit argumentative even with them.
Work with lawyers, work with human rights groups, and work with Cage.
In the end Allah is in control. You do your best, and He grants success.
See the rest of CAGE’s Separating Families: How PREVENT seeks the removal of children report here.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)