Why NHS doctor fighting jihad in Syria won't be prosecuted

South London doctor in militant Syrian gang could easily be identified, but history suggests nothing will be done

Column LAST UPDATED AT 07:34 ON Fri 31 Aug 2012

THE UK’s industrial exports may be suffering in difficult economic times, but we remain a healthy exporter of Islamist extremists, as the journalist John Cantlie discovered when kidnapped in Syria last month by Al Absi – a group whose aim is to subject the whole world to Sharia law.

To Cantlie's surprise, many of the bearded, AK47-toting fighters appeared to be British Pakistanis with London accents - cockney jihadists.

Worse, one of them - clearly a doctor of medicine with a bagful of NHS supplies - claimed to be an NHS doctor from the A&E department of a south London hospital on sabbatical, which he was using to wage holy war in Syria.

Some evenings, Cantlie could hear him talking on his mobile phone to his family in the UK. Cantlie had an unpleasant captivity before managing to escape – much of the gang’s conversation centred around whether they should behead two of Assad’s men they had also captured – and at one point the hand-cuffed Cantlie could hear knives being sharpened. In the end the gang let the Syrians live.  

In a way, this is nothing new. In the past, Britons have gone abroad to fight in foreign wars. Lord Byron recruited for and fought in the Greek War of Independence. A few wealthy Englishmen and Americans followed him, inspired by an Oxbridge/Ivy League love of all things Greek.  

According to MI5’s surveillance records released in 2011, more than 4,000 British subjects left the country to fight in the Spanish Civil War, including the Old Etonian novelist, Eric Blair, (George Orwell) and the Liverpool docker, Jack Jones, (later leader of the TUC and a Russian spy). Most took the Republican side against Franco.  

What is new, even in a world of uncontrolled immigration and fanatical diversity, is what looks like hard evidence of a British born doctor, carrying arms, and giving his services to a violent and nasty Islamic group, hell-bent on establishing Sharia law by force.  

It should be fairly easy to identify the doctor concerned – there can’t be that many currently on sabbatical from hospitals in south London. Come to think of it, there can’t be that many people calling London from a mobile phone in Syria either.  

The call would almost certainly have been intercepted at GCHQ’s Agios Nikolaos listening station in eastern Cyprus – less than a hundred miles from the Syrian coast.

But don’t bet on any action being taken. Stanley Baldwin’s government was keen to discourage recruiting activities by the Communist Party of Great Britain and stem the flow of British volunteers to Spain. They threatened everyone with an 1870 law, the Foreign Enlistment Act, which made it illegal for Britons to fight in conflicts abroad. But in the end no prosecutions were brought. The legal problems of proof and jurisdiction were too great even for the government’s cleverest lawyers.

And so it will prove today. A prosecution of this doctor under the act, still on the statute book, would be difficult. For a start, Al Absi shares the aim of Messrs Cameron and Hague to get rid of Assad.

In any case, there are other NHS doctors in Syria helping those wounded in the fighting. NHS anaesthetist Rachel Craven, for instance, is bravely and worthily helping the charity Medecin Sans Frontieres at its secret hospital close to Syria’s border with Turkey.

Despite the fact that the south London doctor is a murderous jihadist, (Cantlie said he was acutely disappointed when the gang decided not to behead their Syrian captives) it looks as though we will have to fall back for our security on the more genteel standards of the NHS and the General Medical Council.

Don’t bet on the NHS taking any action. Some NHS Trusts can be very aggressive towards religion - but only when it’s Christianity. Do your ward sister’s rounds wearing a crucifix in Exeter, for instance, and you face suspension.

The General Medical Council said it would be investigating – “Protecting patients is our priority”. I am not sure acting as medical officer to a ragtag group of jihadists in Syria means that a doctor’s ‘fitness to practise’ is necessarily impaired. The GMC will be powerless.

In all likelihood, this individual will return to his job and continue to practise. I doubt the public will even be allowed to know his identity.

I am glad I don’t live in south London. · 

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31 Aug.........I'm sure his identity will be discovered and put-up on the internet by somebody.

While a prosecution under the Foreign Enlistment Act might be difficult, what's wrong with using the Terrorism Act 2000, which covers activities in all countries?

At least he could be proscuted for stealing NHS medcines

brave article these days Crispin.