First terrorism charges against exsoldier who fought Islamic State fail as prosecutors

Mr Matthews entered a formal not guilty plea and the prosecution offered no evidence so a not guilty verdict was entered by the judge.At the time Mr Matthews was charged, it was the first time that terrorism legislation had been used to prosecute someone who is helping a group which is also being assisted by the UK Government. It is baffling that the CPS took two years to decide to prosecute him, then seven months later they have suddenly realised there is not enough evidence to do soJoel Bennathan QC, defending A British ex-soldier accused of attending terrorist training camps run by militia fighting against Islamic State has had terrorism charges against him dropped.James Matthews, who had joined Kurdish forces targeting extremists, was charged after returning to Britain to attend the funeral of Jac Holmes, a fellow British volunteer fighting with the Kurds who was killed in Raqqa in late 2017.In the first case of its kind, he was charged with receiving instruction or training in Iraq and Syria on or before February 15 2016 “for purposes connected to the commission of preparation of terrorism”.The 43-year-old, from Dalston, east London, had been due to face trial at the Old Bailey in November.But at a hearing before Mr Justice Edis on Tuesday, prosecutor Tom Little QC announced the Crown had concluded there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction on “evidential grounds”. Counter terrorism sources previously denied the charges had heralded a change in policy towards those fighting against Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (Isil).While there has been public sympathy for the band of volunteers who have joined the Kurdish YPG militia fighting Isil, the UK authorities say the battle-hardened volunteers might still be vulnerable to radicalisation and potentially pose a security risk.Turkey also says the YPG is linked to the PKK separatist group which is proscribed in the UK. Sources said returning volunteers were being investigated on a case-by-case basis. Several have been arrested and questioned on their return.Mr Little defended the decision to bring the charge against Mr Matthews and stressed the review was based on further evidence “specific” to the case. James Matthews Mr Justice Edis said: “The Attorney General is ultimately responsible and is accountable to Parliament for his function and I’m not sure the court ought to become embroiled in that.”Mr Matthews sat in the well of the court as he was formally cleared of wrongdoing. He is believed to have served several years with the British Army in the 1990s and deployed to Bosnia. He joined the YPG in 2015 and later served three tours with the militia group, specialising in clearing mines and booby-traps, Kurdish sources told the Telegraph.He appeared in a Channel 4 documentary – The Brits battling Isis – about fighting the extremists and their self-styled caliphate. “After two-and-a-half years, we suggest Mr Matthews is entitled to a full and proper explanation of what has happened here and invite the court to direct that should be done.” Joel Bennathan QC, defending, said Mr Matthews was “happy” at the move.He said: “We have always said the decision to prosecute Mr Matthews for fighting with the YPG against Isis was extraordinary and totally unjustified. Mr Matthews is happy this has now come to an end.”Mr Matthews was always open about what he had done and it is baffling that the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) took two years to decide to prosecute him, then seven months later they have suddenly realised there is not enough evidence to do so. James Matthews joined the YPG in 2015 Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings. James Matthews arriving at the Old Bailey for an earlier hearingCredit:Dominic Lipinski /PA James Matthews joined the YPG in 2015