LONDON — British police acknowledged mistakes Saturday in dealing with the case of three schoolgirls who left the U.K. to join the Islamic State group after families complained authorities should have contacted them directly during their investigation into the disappearance of a classmate.
The unusual admission came after the families of the three schoolgirls insisted police let them down, missing chances that might have offered clues that Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15, had been radicalized and intended to go to Syria.
The families are angry because Scotland Yard failed to tell them that officers had met with the girls about the disappearance of a classmate at their school, the Bethnal Green Academy. Investigators gave the girls letters to take home to their parents asking for permission to take statements. The girls hid the letters.
Halima Khanom, Sultana's sister, told the BBC that if the family had known what was going on, they would have "taken precautions with my sister."
However, police said in a statement that the parents had been informed about the meetings by the deputy head of the school and that when police met with a group of girls at the school official's office, they were being treated as witnesses to help in the case of their missing friend. The police insist there was nothing whatsoever to suggest the girls were planning to travel to Syria.
"With the benefit of hindsight, we acknowledge that the letters could have been delivered direct to the parents," the police said in a statement.
The admission comes as authorities grapple with the question of how to best deal with young people exposed through social media to IS ideology. Critics suggest the case of the Bethnal Green girls illustrates failures in the system to both understand and combat the menace.
The police say it remains a priority to try to prevent people traveling to join extremist groups "whether they be determined terrorists, radicalized individuals."