Daniel Burke: Terror charges dropped against British ex-soldier who fought against Isis in Syria

Prosecutions also dropped against father and brother of another YPG volunteer in ‘total farce’

Lizzie Dearden
Security Correspondent
Friday 03 July 2020 12:19 BST
The men had volunteered with the YPG, which was backed by the US-led coalition to drive Isis out of Syria
The men had volunteered with the YPG, which was backed by the US-led coalition to drive Isis out of Syria (EPA file photo)

Prosecutors have dropped terror charges against a former British army soldier who volunteered with Kurdish fighters in Syria.

Ex-paratrooper Daniel Burke originally fought against Isis with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) between late 2017 and June 2018.

No action was taken at the time, but he was prosecuted after allegedly attempting to return to support the YPG against an invasion by Turkish-led forces last year.

Mr Burke, of Wythenshawe, served in the elite Parachute Regiment between 2007 and 2009.

Upon his arrest, he told police: “I’m not a terrorist, you know I’m not a terrorist. I’ve done nothing but fight for this country. This is a f**king joke.”

He was remanded in prison ahead of a trial that had been due to take place in October, amid concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

Charges of preparing acts of terrorism by planning to travel to Syria and of funding terrorism were dropped on Friday.

A barrister told the Old Bailey the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was presenting no evidence against Mr Burke, or two other men originally charged in a separate case.

Paul and Sam Newey – the father and brother of another man who fought with the YPG – were prosecuted for terror offences in the first case of its kind.

Paul Newey, 49, was accused of funding terrorism by sending £150 to his son, while his 19-year-old son was accused of helping his brother.

Daniel Newey, who remains in Syria, joined the YPG while it was being backed by the US-led coalition to push Isis out of its Syrian territories in 2017.

He returned to Britain in 2018 but travelled to Syria for a second time last year, after Turkey launched an offensive against Kurdish-held territory in October.

All charges against his father and brother were also dropped on Friday.

Simon Davis, for the prosecution, said the case had been “reviewed” after defence lawyers served an expert report and documents alleging an abuse of process.

“In advance of this hearing, the prosecution notified all parties of their intention to offer no evidence against all the defendants,” he added.

“It is the responsibility of the prosecution to review matters continuously and as the case has developed, the prosecution has concluded that there is now insufficient evidence to sustain a reasonable prospect of conviction.”

Asked for an explanation by the judge, Mr Davis said he was not instructed to give further detail but the decision had been “made after careful thought and consideration”.

He added: “The case has been assessed by prosecuting counsel in consultation with CPS lawyers and police, to ensure that the appropriate course of action is taken in the interests of justice.”

Mr Justice Sweeney formally entered not-guilty verdicts for every count against all three defendants and ordered that Paul and Sam Newey be paid £100 each for their travel costs.

Andrew Hall QC, representing Mr Burke, said he had been detained since December 2019 and deserved a “detailed explanation” of why the case against him was dropped.

“The court is entitled to know, Mr Burke is entitled to know and the public who have funded these long and expensive proceedings would no doubt like to know,” he added.

Richard Thomas, representing Paul Newey, said the family had been “vilified in this country, called terrorists and been threatened”.

“In those circumstances we say he is entitled to an explanation,” he added. “These were very serious charges.”

Sam Newey, the brother of YPG volunteer Daniel Newey, outside Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 14 February (PA)

Balbir Singh, representing Sam Newey, said: “It is appropriate and proportionate for there to be a proper and detailed explanation for what has caused their lives to be turned upside down for a significant number of months, and all the anxiety they have had to suffer.”

Justice Sweeney called for submissions in writing from the prosecution and defence ahead of another hearing on 10 July. “I would expect the prosecution to give further serious consideration to being more forthcoming,” he added.

Paul Newey told The Independent his life had been an “absolute nightmare” since he and his son were arrested by counterterror police in December. “It’s been a total farce, the police and CPS need to be ashamed for even bringing the case,” he added.

“We’re relieved but we haven’t had our day in court to exonerate ourselves. Not going through with the prosecution is different to someone finding you not guilty.”

The trial was originally scheduled to start in June but was delayed until October, leaving the family “in limbo” until Mr Newey received a letter from the CPS on Monday.

It said that “the case against all defendants had insufficient evidence to sustain a realistic prospect of conviction”, but offered no further explanation.

Turkey's operation in Syria causes suffering and displacement along border

“It would have been going ahead now but nothing has changed in the evidence, we haven’t bought anything new forward,” Paul Newey said. “They’re just going by my statements when I got arrested, and I just told them the truth.”

He said police had seized 12 phones, two iPads and two laptops from the home he shares with his son, and that armed officers pulled them over while driving to see his father in hospital in September.

The father described how he had been repeatedly questioned by police and people who he believed to be representatives of the security service.

Paul Newey said he had not been able to speak to his son for nine months because of his bail conditions.

“He’s still in Syria,” he added. “I haven’t been able to speak to him to see if he’s OK and what he’s going through.”

They are the latest in a string of failed prosecutions against people who supported the YPG.

Paul Newey questioned why the CPS had attempted the charges when other cases had failed, calling the case a “complete joke and a waste of everybody’s time”.

He added: “Nobody supporting the YPG is going to be a danger to the British public, they’re fighting for a cause they believe in to protect people. How are they terrorists?”

One former volunteer, Aidan James, was jailed in November for attending a training camp operated by the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Iraq but was acquitted by a jury for the same offence at a YPG camp.

The CPS initially charged him with preparing acts of terrorism by travelling to Syria to join the YPG but a judge found that he had “no case to answer”.

Mr Justice Edis noted the Kurdish group was “supporting the policy of the UK and other allies by fighting Isis” and was backed by RAF airstrikes.

The judge told the Old Bailey last year that fighting alongside the YPG “was not terrorism at all” under current laws.

Several other British people who joined the group have been arrested and questioned by counterterror police, with some having their passports and phones seized, but faced no further action.

Eight British volunteers – seven men and one woman – were killed in action while fighting with the group.

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