The diplomat in charge of the scheme to deport terrorists has quit because it is not working, The Telegraph can disclose.
Just 12 foreign terrorists have been expelled in the past decade under the Deportation with Assurances scheme. Not a single terrorist suspect has been sent home in the past year, it is understood.
The disclosure raises serious concerns over Britain’s ability to expel suspects who use the Human Rights Act to prevent their deportation.
Meanwhile, fears are growing that three “jihadi brides” who ran away from home to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant fighters have already crossed the Turkish border into Syria.
Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and an unnamed 15-year-old left their homes in east London last Tuesday, before boarding a flight to Istanbul.
Neither Turkish Airlines, nor the UK Border Force reported to police that the girls were travelling unaccompanied to the region, despite it being a well-worn route to Syria.
Britain established the Deportation with Assurances (DWA) scheme to send foreign terrorist suspects back to their home countries in the Middle East and Africa on “non-torture” deals.
These international agreements are supposed to stop lawyers using the Human Rights Act to prevent terrorists being expelled. But a Sunday Telegraph investigation has discovered that the senior official in charge of the DWA scheme has resigned because he claims it is not working.
Two deportation cases collapsed last summer after Anthony Layden, the official who had been overseeing DWA, expressed serious misgivings about its operation.
It is not clear what those misgivings were but they are thought to be concerned with Britain’s failure to put in place proper monitoring to ensure deported terror suspects were not mistreated — or even tortured — on their return.
An official review of the scheme, which is unlikely to be published until after the election, will show just 12 foreign terrorists have been deported to countries such as Algeria and Jordan in the past 10 years — a figure confirmed by the Home Office — while France has deported 129.
The findings raise serious doubts over Theresa May’s ability to rid Britain of dangerous, foreign-born jihadists. The Home Secretary has previously trumpeted the scheme’s success.
It was introduced in 2005 to circumvent concerns that suspects sent home faced torture and ill-treatment — and that to deport them contravened their human rights.
Agreements have been signed with Algeria, Jordan, Ethiopia, Libya, Lebanon and Morocco, giving assurances that suspects will not be subjected to mistreatment.
It is impossible for UK authorities to deport terror suspects to such countries as Somalia and Eritrea, where no assurances are in place.
Only one suspect is thought to have been sent home under the scheme since Abu Qatada, the radical cleric, was deported to Jordan in 2013.
Further doubts have emerged with the resignation of Mr Layden as special representative for deportation with assurances. The former ambassador to Libya and Morocco, told The Telegraph he no longer supported the scheme he had overseen.
He refused to say precisely what the problem was, explaining he had no wish to “help the terrorists”, but said it lay with the Home Office.
Mr Layden added: “I no longer feel comfortable with the whole DWA procedure. It was a matter over the way our government behaved with one of our partner countries.”
Mr Layden gave evidence to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), the special court held in secret to hear appeals by terrorism suspects whom the Government wishes to deport.
Lawyers routinely argue at SIAC that deportation is a breach of foreign suspects’ human rights
But concerns raised by Mr Layden at one SIAC hearing, contributed to the collapse of cases against two Ethiopians. One of the Ethiopians, known only as J1, was accused of being a member of the al-Shabaab terrorist group and a close associate of one of four bombers who attempted to bomb the London underground on July 21 2005. A second member of al-Shabaab, was also allowed to remain.
According to part of the judgment, seen by The Telegraph, Mr Layden is described as having “recently expressed doubts as to the efficacy of the [DWA] system”.
Mr Layden told The Sunday Telegraph: “I had expressed concern in a message to SIAC.
“A difficulty did arise and I eventually resigned from the job and SIAC arranged for me to appear in front of the court and give evidence. I was asked to appear again in July and the Government withdrew the deportations orders against the two people without it being heard.”
Mr Layden’s intervention is deeply embarrassing for Mrs May, who made political capital from managing to deport Abu Qatada, where the Labour government had failed.
Concerns over the scheme prompted Mrs May to order a review of DWA as long ago as November 2013 to be conducted by David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation.
The review is almost complete and is due to be sent to ministers.
Clive Walker, professor of criminal justice studies at Leeds University, who has co-authored the review, said: “There have been 12 deportations with assurances over the decade. In France up until 2013, 129 foreign terror suspects had been deported.
“The French are aggressive in their attitude… They are on the plane before their feet can touch the ground.”
Research by The Henry Jackson Society, a security think tank, has estimated that more than 25 foreign terrorists have resisted deportation using the Human Rights Act.
An investigation by this newspaper showed how Baghdad Meziane, an Algerian convicted as long ago as 2003 of being an al-Qaeda fundraiser, had managed to remain in the UK more than five years after his deportation was ordered.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We pursue every possible avenue to remove foreign nationals who threaten our national security and deportation with assurances is just one weapon in our wider armoury.
“The complex processes and different jurisdictions involved means it is used less frequently than other powers.”
But Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said: “Theresa May just hasn’t got a grip on deportations or border control.”