11:16, August 06 137 0 theguardian.com

2019-08-06 11:16:05
Met police seek access to journalists' material on Shamima Begum

The Metropolitan police are attempting to gain access to unpublished material held by journalists who interviewed Shamima Begum, one of the teenage girls who ran away from east London to join Islamic State in 2015, ahead of a potential prosecution.

Begum had her British citizenship revoked earlier this year by the then home secretary, Sajid Javid, which left her effectively stateless. The decision is being challenged in the courts by Begum’s family.

Scotland Yard is trying to force the BBC, ITN, Sky News and the Times to hand over material they hold on her under a provision of the Terrorism Act 2000, which could potentially aid a prosecution if Begum were granted the right to return home.

The Times, Sky News and ITN have chosen to collectively fight the relatively unusual proposed order, while the BBC has decided to remain neutral and await the outcome of the case.

The media traditionally opposes police requests for material gathered for journalistic purposes, as it can break agreements between reporters and interviewees.

The Met said officers would contact media organisations “if they believe that they may have information or evidence that could assist a criminal investigation”.

The force added: “We fully respect the media’s independence. The police will, when appropriate, seek a production order in situations where that material is not provided voluntarily. The decision to grant or deny the production order, quite properly, lies with the court.”

A hearing was due to take place on Tuesday morning at the Old Bailey, but it was postponed after the assigned judge, Mr Justice Sweeney, concluded he was too senior to hear the case due to a quirk in the way terrorism legislation was written.

The Times reporter Anthony Loyd was the first journalist to track down Begum, spending an hour-and-a-half alone with her in a Syrian refugee camp in February. He later interviewed her again after the death of her baby son, while other major British broadcasters also recorded interviews with the young woman.

Begum, who married a Dutch Isis fighter, has said she regrets running away from Bethnal Green to join the terrorist group, but wants to return home to the UK. Now believed to be 19 years old, she has had three children, all of whom have died.

The British government can revoke citizenship as long as it does not leave people stateless. Javid, who was preparing for an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to become Conservative leader when he took away her British passport, insisted his action was legal because Begum’s parents were Bangladeshi nationals, which he said entitled her to a passport from Bangladesh.

However, Dhaka disagreed and Begum remains in a camp in Syria while the legal case continues.