The AFP has refused to answer questions about the case of a 13-year-old autistic boy who was targeted in an undercover police operation and subsequently charged with terror offences.Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images
The lawyer for an autistic teenage boy charged with terrorist offenses after being targeted during an undercover police operation says “the whole story” has had a huge impact on the child and his family.
Last week, Guardian Australia revealed the case of a boy known as Thomas Carrick, who was charged with terror offenses after his parents contacted police asking for help with the 13-year-old’s fixation on Islamic State.
Thomas was charged with two misdemeanors in October 2021, but was granted a permanent stay two years later.
Related: How Australian undercover police ‘fueled’ an autistic 13-year-old’s fixation with Islamic State
His lawyers, Sam Norton and Nick Jane, had never seen a case like this. No child had ever been charged with the crimes Thomas faced.
“It’s important to understand that [he was] under incredibly strict bail conditions for two years and the AFP attempted to revoke his bail multiple times in circumstances where they never charged him for any further alleged offences,” Norton said.
“The impact of the entire saga on him and his family has been enormous.”
The Australian Federal Police has declined to answer questions about the case, as has the Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, who has portfolio responsibility for the AFP and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP). However, the AFP confirmed that a “range of reviews” on the issue were being considered.
Court documents related to the case reveal details of the steps taken by police during the operation and the seriousness of the allegations against Thomas.
The documents paint a picture of a boy with complex needs and troubling behavior for whom finding a friend was a remarkable achievement, and the massive counter-terrorism operation that consumed him whole.
The documents also show that authorities strongly believed the operation was necessary to quell a potentially deadly threat.
The matter will be scrutinized again this week, with the AFP due to appear before the Senate estimates on Tuesday.
Thomas was first reported to authorities by the principal of his primary school. A few months later, in April 2021, his parents went to a Victorian police station and told officers they wanted help dealing with his fixation with Islamic State.
Over the next three months, he received therapeutic support as part of his parents’ contact with police, but he also reportedly behaved in various ways that would later lead to him being charged.
This reportedly included pledging allegiance to the Islamic State on Twitter (now making referrals during a meeting with a Victoria recruiter. police psychologist and the force’s Countering Violent Extremism unit called the September 11 attacks “cool” because they wanted to build a bomb that would explode at Flinders Street station or a government building, and carry out a school shooting.
On July 29, 2021, Thomas started talking to an undercover officer online. The Joint Counter Terrorism Team, made up of Victoria Police, AFP and Asio officers, had decided the undercover operation could run in parallel with therapeutic efforts to change Thomas’ behaviour, a decision later heavily criticized by a children’s court.
The officer talked to Thomas on 55 of the next 71 days, and 1,400 pages of online chats between the pair were later entered into evidence in court.
In October 2021, Thomas was accused of being a member of a terrorist organization between April 16, 2021 (the date his parents approached police) and October 6, 2021 (the date he was arrested).
He was also charged with advocating terrorism between September 19, 2021 and October 6, 2021.
Related: Australian teenager Yusuf Zahab ‘alives’ in Syrian prison, months after reporting he was killed in an IS attack
The Commonwealth offenses carried maximum sentences of ten and five years respectively.
What followed were two years of battles between the CDPP and the boy’s lawyers. Only a selection of the decisions relating to those hearings have been made public.
Less than a month after Thomas was charged, the CDPP appealed to the Victorian Supreme Court against Children’s Court Judge Jack Vandersteen’s decision to grant him bail.
The lawyers argued that Vandersteen should have found that there was an unacceptable risk that Thomas would endanger the safety of a person or commit a criminal offense if released on bail.
A detective told the court that Thomas’ family had disowned him, that Thomas “liked knives,” that he had talked about slitting a girl’s throat and had talked about blowing up the school and specific teachers, and shared the belief that Thomas would eventually contact a real jihadist and “take what is offered to him,” Judge Lex Lasry wrote in his ruling.
But the court also heard that Thomas was unable to be interviewed by police after his arrest because doctors felt he was too “suggestible”.
Thomas’ father said he had not disowned him; he wanted him home, saying that his son’s autism was the problem, and that his son lacked social skills and had a low IQ (the most recent court decision regarding the case lists his IQ as 71, but previous decisions say that it was as high as 74).
Lasry noted that the juvenile court had prepared a report indicating that Thomas could be subject to supervised bail.
“Although the respondent continued to adhere to the extremist ideology and continued his support for terrorist acts despite protective intervention from his parents, school, police and child protection services, he had not taken any practical steps to carry them out and the evidence supported the conclusion that the The nature and frequency of interventions when bail is granted allows the risk to be minimized to an acceptable level,” Lasry noted.
In April 2022, the CDPP filed a request to move Thomas’ charges from the children to the Supreme Court, arguing they were too serious and complex.
Vandersteen noted that Thomas was subject to onerous bail conditions, but that his compliance was “excellent.”
He said the court could deal with the serious charges and disagreed that the case was complex. [Thomas] and the [undercover operative]”.
Thomas’ bail was revoked in July 2022 after it emerged Thomas had breached his conditions by attempting to send an email and perform Google searches on an iPad.
The searches include topics like “10 Ways to Cover Up a Murder.” Police also alleged that Thomas bullied a fellow student, made threats against a student to a teacher and seized a school workbook that allegedly contained relevant images and notes.
Related: Is Australia abusing its anti-terrorist powers? – podcast
Thomas was not allowed to use the internet, but police discovered that Thomas had a handwritten note referencing his home internet IP address and password.
A month earlier, police had made another application to revoke bail after claiming he breached bail by conducting searches and having certain material on his computer while he was at school. The application was rejected.
Thomas spent three months in detention until his lawyers filed a bail application for Vandersteen in October 2022.
Vandersteen noted that the prosecutor was ordered by the court to provide all relevant documents related to the case by October 13, a process known as full disclosure.
But a lawyer appearing on behalf of the Victoria Police chief said they would not comply with the court order and would need another three to four weeks.
Vandersteen noted that disclosure “may lead to an application for permanent residence”; an opportunity that arose a year later, meaning Thomas might have been acquitted of the charges sooner if police had followed the court order.
Juvenile Justice recommended supervised bail, and Jane argued on behalf of Thomas that the bail violations occurred in the context of Thomas struggling with social isolation, unable to meet his academic needs, and wanting to move schools.
The CDPP argued that the factors relied upon for granting bail – Thomas’ autism, youth and oppositional defiance – were the very factors that led to the greatest risk.
The court heard there was evidence that if Thomas was not listened to he would obtain a gun and take action against someone, adding that he had strong views on violence and violence against members of the community, including fact that he had apparently threatened to rape a person. police officer involved in the case.
“Juvenile law assesses TC [Thomas] “as highly vulnerable to negative peer influence in custody due to his age and his complex mental health and disability diagnosis,” Vandersteen said.
“While in custody, TC is seen by staff to imitate the bad behavior of others. TC has stated that he does not want to engage in this behavior in the future.”
Bail was granted under strict conditions. A year later, Thomas was acquitted of all charges.
“The community would not expect that law enforcement officers would encourage a 13-14 year old child to engage in racial hatred, distrust of police and violent extremism, thereby encouraging the child’s fixation with ISIS,” Magistrate Lesley Fleming said in granting the application for permanent residence.
“The community would not expect law enforcement officers to use the guise of a rehabilitation service to entice the parents of a troubled child to participate in a process that results in potential harm to the child.
“The conduct of the JCTT and the AFP so deeply falls short of the minimum standards expected of law enforcement agencies [sic] that you must refuse this [stay] would serve to condone and encourage further instances of such behavior.”