Terror trial collapses after fears of deep embarrassment to security services
Swedish national Bherlin Gildo’s lawyers argued British intelligence agencies were supporting the same Syrian opposition groups as he was
A Free Syrian Army fighter fires his weapon during clashes in Aleppo. The Old Bailey was told by the crown that there was no longer a reasonable prospect of a prosecution. Photograph: Muzaffar Salman/Reuters
The prosecution of a Swedish national accused of terrorist activities in Syria has collapsed at the Old Bailey after it became clear Britain’s security and intelligence agencies would have been deeply embarrassed had a trial gone ahead, the Guardian can reveal.
His lawyers argued that British intelligence agencies were supporting the same Syrian opposition groups as he was, and were party to a secret operation providing weapons and non-lethal help to the groups, including the Free Syrian Army.
Bherlin Gildo, 37, who was arrested last October on his way from Copenhagen to Manila, was accused of attending a terrorist training camp and receiving weapons training between 31 August 2012 and 1 March 2013 as well as possessing information likely to be useful to a terrorist.
Riel Karmy-Jones, for the crown, told the court on Monday that after reviewing the evidence it was decided there was no longer a reasonable prospect of a prosecution. “Many matters were raised we did not know at the outset,” she told the recorder of London, Nicholas Hilliard QC, who lifted all reporting restrictions and entered not guilty verdicts.
In earlier court hearings, Gildo’s defence lawyers argued he was helping the same rebel groups the British government was aiding before the emergence of the extreme Islamist group, Isis. His trial would have been an “affront to justice”, his lawyers said.
Henry Blaxland QC, the defence counsel, said: “If it is the case that HM government was actively involved in supporting armed resistance to the Assad regime at a time when the defendant was present in Syria and himself participating in such resistance it would be unconscionable to allow the prosecution to continue.”
Blaxland told the court: “If government agencies, of which the prosecution is a part, are themselves involved in the use of force, in whatever way, it is our submission that would be an affront to justice to allow the prosecution to continue.”
After Monday’s hearing, Gildo’s solicitor, Gareth Peirce, said his case had exposed a number of “contradictions” – not least that the matters on which he was charged were not offences in Sweden, and that the UK government had expressed support for the Syrian opposition.
“He has been detained in this country although he did not ever intend to enter this country. For him it’s as if he has been abducted by aliens from outer space,” she said.
“Given that there is a reasonable basis for believing that the British were themselves involved in the supply of arms, if that’s so, it would be an utter hypocrisy to prosecute someone who has been involved in the armed resistance.”
Gildo’s defence lawyers quoted a number of press articles referring to the supply of arms to Syrian rebels, including one from the Guardian on 8 March 2013, on the west’s training of Syrian rebels in Jordan. Articles on the New York Times from 24 March and 21 June 2013, gave further details and an article in the London Review of Books from 14 April 12014, implicated MI6 in a “rat line” for the transfer of arms from Libya.
Gildo was was flying to Manila to join his wife, a Filipina, when he was stopped under schedule 7 of the 2000 Terrorism Act, the same statute used to question David Miranda, partner of the former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, in 2013.
The court heard that Gildo had sought the help of the Swedish secret service, Sapo, when he wanted to return to his home country.
It is not the first time a British prosecution relating to allegations of Syrian terrorism has collapsed. Last October Moazzem Begg was released after “new material” was said to have emerged.
The attorney general was consulted about Monday’s decision. Karmy-Jones told the court in pre-trial hearings that Gildo had worked with Jabhat al-Nusra, a “proscribed group considered to be al-Qaida in Syria”. He was photographed standing over dead bodies with his finger pointing to the sky.
The Press Association contributed to this report