- Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner concerned about jihadi brides
- Simon Hayes claimed to know of girls as young as five wishing to flee UK
- He said the 'problem is current' and 'we need as a society to deal with it'
- Experts believe around 250 British jihadis are now living with ISIS in Syria
A police chief has claimed to know of British girls as young as five who want to flee the UK to become jihadi brides in Syria.
Simon Hayes, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Hampshire, claimed that young girls in Portsmouth had expressed wishes to travel to Syria and become jihadi brides.
He said in a televised interview that there are issues within the Portsmouth community of youngsters wishing to flee to ISIS strongholds.
During the BBC interview, he said: 'I have no malicious criticism of the city council whatsoever.
'But I do know that there are still, in recent months, young girls in schools in Portsmouth saying that they would wish to become jihadi brides.
'These are young girls at the ages of five and six so these are problems that are current, that have not been dealt with and we need as a society to deal with it.'
It comes amid growing concerns about the number of teenagers – and particularly young girls – who are travelling to Syria to join ISIS.
There are now around 60 British women and girls who have fled the UK to become jihadi brides – an increase of ten over the past year, experts say.
In all, around 250 British jihadis are thought to be now living in Syria – though some groups believe the true figure is much higher.
In most cases, teenagers who travel to the Islamic State are believed to have been groomed online – including three girls from Bethnal Green in East London who ran away to the Islamic State in February.
Shamima Begum and Amira Abase, both 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16, crossed over the Turkish-Syrian border last February and are believed to be living in an ISIS-held city in Syria where militants operate.
Despite Mr Hayes' concerns, not all agreed with the comments he made during the televised interview, with the leader of Portsmouth City Council saying she is 'deeply, deeply concerned' by his handling of matters of national security.
Donna Jones has even written an open letter to Home Secretary Theresa May to report Mr Hayes' behaviour which she describes as 'extremely disappointing'.
In her letter, Mrs Jones claimed that Mr Hayes required 'enhanced' training by the police to deal with matters on national security.
She said: 'I am extremely disappointed and have serious concerns about these inaccurate allegations, which have politicised and trivialised this important national security issue.
'We have forged strong links with residents, community leaders and organisations and work is under way to raise awareness of hate crime and extremism, as well as establishing what more can be done to prevent young people travelling to Syria.
'I would like to take this opportunity to request that you direct special branch to provide Simon Hayes with enhanced training on how to deal with critical matters relating to national security.'
Mrs Jones added: 'What he is doing is sending out the wrong message and managing this the wrong way. The lack of professionalism is unbelievable.'
Her letter came after the pair came to blows on Twitter, with Mrs Jones claiming that the police chief had done nothing to help Portsmouth in its efforts to curb extremist activity.
Portsmouth has been classed as a second-tier area under the national counter extremism Prevent scheme, meaning there is a higher risk of radicalism.
Polly Honeychurch, headteacher of Cottage Grove Primary School, in Portsmouth, Hampshire - which has a large percentage of Muslim pupils - accused the police chief of scaremongering.
She said: 'I am absolutely incensed by Mr Hayes' claims. Sixty per cent of my school pupils come from ethnic backgrounds, and a large proportion of those are Muslim.
'About half of my Muslim pupils are girls. I haven't heard a single five or six-year-old Muslim girl saying they want to be a jihadi bride.
'I am very aware of the Portsmouth Muslims who have been killed in Syria and aware of the families who have been charged with terror offences.
'I have tried to get the police into school to work with the children on this whole issue, but the Prevent strategy and the police involved in it are only going into secondary schools.
'What Mr Hayes said is scaremongering. We need people to understand different faiths and where people come from.'
In response to Mrs Jones' letter to the Home Secretary, Mr Hayes accused the council leader of 'launching a personal attack' on him.
He said: 'What I would have expected from Donna was her to say we are taking this seriously, to say this is what we have done, these are our plans for the future, instead of launching a personal attack around my professionalism saying I have made the situation worse in Portsmouth.
'What I am looking for the council to do is reassure me, reassure the wider public and reassure the home secretary that the city council have a plan to take on the responsibilities which the government has given them.
'Hampshire Constabulary is engaging with primary school children in Portsmouth. They are aware that primary school children in Portsmouth are at risk of being radicalised.'
His comments about jihadi brides come just a week after he said radicalism is not being taken seriously by the city council at a public meeting.