Exclusive: Paul Newey is first Briton to face investigation for terrorism offences related to family member joining Kurdish-led group

Dan Newey, who travelled to Syria in 2017 to join the YPG. Photograph: c/o Dan Newey

Original article by Bethan McKernan, The Guardian, December 27, 2019

The father of a British man volunteering with the Kurdish-led YPG forces in Syria fighting Islamic State has been arrested and bailed pending further enquiries related to terrorism offences in what is believed to be the first such case in the UK.

Police arrived at the Solihull home of Paul Newey, 49, on 11 December with a warrant and proceeded to search his flat and seize laptops and mobile phones. Newey was arrested and taken to a police station for questioning, along with his 18-year-old son Sam, who was also threatened with arrest.

The pair were questioned for 13 hours about Newey’s elder son Dan Newey, 27, who left the UK in 2017 and travelled to north-eastern Syria to join the YPG (People’s Protection Units) – a Kurdish-led force supported by western countries in the five-year battle against Isis. Newey returned to Syria in October, after Turkey launched an attack on the YPG.

Newey was held for four days and released on bail.

Newey said police also visited the Nuneaton home of Newey’s mother, Vikki, on 11 December, without a warrant, and told her she would be arrested if she did not voluntarily attend a police station for questioning. She was interviewed for around 12 hours before being released.

 YPG members and Syrian Kurds take part in a demonstration in the town of Amuda, Syria, in January 2018. Photograph: Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images

The case marks the first time a Briton has been investigated for terrorism offences related to a family member joining the YPG, a group which the UK has aided with training, weapons and ground troop support as part of the US-led international coalition against Isis.

Newey, who was previously investigated and placed on a watchlist but not charged with any crimes when he returned home in March 2018, said in a series of messages from Syria that he was worried the case would set a precedent for other families.

“On the one hand Britain supports the YPG militarily as part of the international coalition and on the other hand it is actively persecuting people that have anything to do with it. I have no idea why [the police] have arrested my father and questioned my brother or mother. My actions are mine alone. Because they can’t get to me, they are targeting my family,” he said.

“If I’m lucky enough to survive whatever happens here, then I will go home and I will take whatever ‘punishment’ they give me.”

West Midlands police confirmed a 49-year-old man in Solihull was arrestedon suspicion of funding and supporting terrorism and had been bailed pending further inquiries.

The YPG is not banned under UK terrorism legislation. However, several UK nationals who have joined the group have been arrested or charged in connection to the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), a movement based in Turkey and Iraq closely allied to the YPG. The PKK is considered a terrorist organisation by the UK and several other countries.

Aidan James from Merseyside, 29, who trained with the PKK in Iraq to fight alongside Kurdish units, was jailed for four years in a landmark case last month.

He was cleared of attending a place of terrorism training with the YPG across the border in Syria due to the YPG working with British support to defend the Kurdish people against the threat of Isis forces.

Similar charges against former soldier James Matthews, 43, from Dalston, London, were dropped last year.

Another former soldier, Daniel Burke, 32, was remanded in custody on 20 December on two counts of preparing acts of terrorism, one of which relates to an allegation he organised transport for Newey to travel to Iraq from Barcelona.

“Material support” for terrorism, a charge Newey’s father could face, has been commonly used to prosecute family members and friends of Britons who joined Isis.

Funding terrorism carries a maximum sentence of 14 years but shorter sentences have been handed down for small sums of money transferred from family members to relatives in Syria.

In the most high-profile case, in June this year John Letts and Sally Lane of Oxford were found guilty of sending their son £223 in September 2015 when he was in Syria, despite concerns he had joined Isis. The couple were sentenced to 15 months in prison suspended for 12 months.

Earlier this month a woman in Liverpool was found guilty of sending £35 to her husband in Syria, a self-styled “independent fighter”. Another woman, a friend, had already pleaded guilty over £46. Both are due to be sentenced soon.

The status of international YPG volunteers has become more complicated since Kurdish-led forces dismantled the last slivers of Isis’s so-called caliphate in March. Since then, Donald Trump has announced the withdrawal of US troops in the area who acted as a buffer between the YPG and Turkey, and Turkey subsequently launched a large attack over its border on the YPG.

As a result, British volunteers with the YPG are now for the most part fighting against a Nato ally and its proxy Syrian rebel forces.

In May 2019, Sajid Javid, then UK home secretary, warned all British citizens in Kurdish-held north-east Syria to leave within 28 days or face a 10-year prison sentence if they attempted to return to the UK, adding that security officials were “urgently” reviewing whether to tighten rules about travel to the region.

If introduced, the policy would be the first use of new powers given to the home secretary in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act, which became law in February.

A rise in arrests and charges brought against Britons with links to the YPG has led to speculation the Home Office is considering the group for inclusion on the proscribed terrorist organisation list. The department said it did not comment on the decision-making process.

Hundreds of international volunteers have travelled to Syria since 2014 to fight alongside Kurdish forces. At least seven British nationals have been killed while with the YPG.

  • An earlier version of this story stated incorrectly that Paul Newey had been charged with support for terrorism and material support for terrorism under the Terrorism Act 2000. He was arrested on suspicion of funding/supporting terrorism, but has not been charged.