A newly-qualified NHS doctor accused of involvement in the kidnapping of two journalists in Syria walked free from court today after the case against him collapsed.
Shajul Islam, 26, had been due to stand trial alongside his brother Najul Islam and a third man for their alleged roles in the imprisonment of British photojournalist John Cantlie and his Dutch colleague Jeroen Oerlemans on the Turkish-Syrian border last summer.
The two journalists were held captive for nine days after they strayed into a jihadist camp in Syria’s lawless north and both suffered gunshot wounds when they staged an unsuccessful escape attempt. They were eventually freed by members of the Free Syrian Army and Dr Islam, from Stratford, east London, was arrested at Heathrow airport when he returned to Britain with his wife and young daughter from Egypt last October.
On the opening day of the trial at Kingston Crown Court, west London, prosecutors said a problem had arisen to “frustrate” their case and they were now unable to call either Mr Cantlie or Mr Oerlemans to give evidence. The court was told that because the case relied on their testimony the prosecution was no longer able to proceed and verdicts of not guilty were to be recorded. The reasons why the two victims were unable to give evidence were not disclosed in court.
Lawyers for Dr Islam, who was suspended by the General Medical Council after he was charged and held in prison on remand, said the medic had played no role in the kidnapping of the two men.
Henry Blaxland QC, for Dr Islam, said: “Shajul was in Syria as a newly-qualified doctor. He responded to a call to assist in one of the world’s most desperate humanitarian crises, where the need for doctors was and is acute.
“He did his best to help. He played no part in any kidnappings. He is relieved that this case has come to an end and that he has been cleared.”
Following his release, Mr Cantlie, who has previously worked for The Sunday Times, told of how his injuries following the escape attempt had been treated by an unnamed British doctor .
The journalist described how he had been held by a group of about 40 jihadists of varying nationalities, including Britons and Chechens, and put in fear of being executed. It is understood the group was led by an “emir” who was a Saudi national.
Dr Islam and his co-defendant, Jubayer Chowdhury, 24, had denied charges of false imprisonment under terrorism legislation.
Najul Islam, 31, also from Stratford and an administrator for the Department for Work and Pensions, had also denied charges of assisting his two co-defendants to engage in terrorist acts by paying for them to travel to Syria and paying for supplies including night vision goggles and medical supplies which he drove from Britain to Turkey.
Mark Dennis QC, prosecuting, said the possibilities of adjourning the case or seeking to admit into proceedings previous statements from the two journalists had been given “anxious consideration” but rejected.
He said: “The victims in this case are the principle witnesses. The case rests wholly on their evidence. The prosecution are unable to call either victim for the purposes of the trial listed today.”
Judge Nicholas Price QC ordered that the men be discharged, adding: “I make no observations of my own.”