The Home Office has ended its contract with a firm paid millions of pounds to deradicalise jihadi brides returning from Syria, following allegations that the owners bullied staff and made excessive profits.
The Unity Initiative, which is run by a GP and her cage-fighter husband, became the subject of a Home Office investigation after officials received a number of complaints, including a letter reportedly from a group of former employees sent to both the Home Office and Probation Service.
In addition to allegations of ‘bullying and harassment’, former staff complained that their salaries were comparatively poor compared to the income enjoyed by the company’s husband and wife bosses who last year bought a five-bedroom home in Surrey for £1.2 million.
In charge: Dr Angela Misra and husband Usman Raja created the deradicalisation firm The Unity Initiative
Government sources last night confirmed that the Home Office ‘is ending its relationship with The Unity Initiative (TUI)’.
Jihadis who were being mentored by the firm will be transferred to other agencies. It is understood the contract will end this week.
The controversy swirling around TUI, whose owners did not respond to repeated requests for comment, is likely to raise fresh questions about the Government’s controversial deradicalisation programme.
TUI was among those who benefited from the collapse of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq from 2016.
As Britons who had flocked to join the terror group fled back to Britain, the Government created the Desistance and Disengagement Programme (DDP) to rehabilitate returning extremists, particularly jihadi brides and those who could not be prosecuted due to a lack of evidence.
Deradicalisation: The Unity Initiative, which is run by a GP and her cage-fighter husband, was praised in the way it deradicalised extremists from similar backgrounds to Shamima Begum
Critics of the DDP scheme say Ministers and the police should focus on prosecuting those who joined IS.
TUI also worked with terror suspects issued with Terrorism Prevention Investigation Measures (TPIMs) that effectively kept them under house arrest and some of those released from prison after serving sentences for terror-related crimes.
Over the past two years, TUI’s owners Dr Angela Misra, 34, and her husband Usman Raja, 42, received more than £2.5 million from the DDP budget.
Citizenship removed: Begum had her citizenship revoked after travelling to Syria with IS
The firm was established in 2009 and had drawn praise for its work to deradicalise extremists linked to Al-Muhajiroun, a banned group headed by hate preacher Anjem Choudary.
A tribute on TUI’s website from Professor Michael Clarke, an expert with the respected defence and security think-tank RUSI, reads: ‘There is no question The Unity Initiative is known for its success.’
Douglas Weekes, another expert on deradicalisation, said: ‘TUI confronts the contemporary threats to society with bespoke and highly effective community and individual strategies.’
Meanwhile, Dr Misra boasted in media interviews of how her company had secretly counselled at least 13 jihadi brides after they returned from Syria.
She said many were from similar backgrounds to Shamima Begum, Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase, three schoolgirls from Bethnal Academy in East London who travelled to Syria to join IS in 2014.
Sultana has since died in Syria and the fate of Abase is unknown. Begum, now 19, has been languishing in a Kurdish refugee camp in northern Syria since earlier this year, after being stripped of her UK citizenship.
Dr Misra also described the story of ‘Zaina’, a white convert to Islam and the first jihadi bride to return to the UK with a Syria-born baby.
She said the woman had spent three years in Raqqa, the terror group’s then de facto capital, before escaping.
Meanwhile, Mr Raja claimed that he had mentored around a dozen male jihadis, using mixed martial arts sessions in gyms in Hampshire and East London to turn them away from violence.
However, The Mail on Sunday has spoken to a number of whistleblowers who claim that the inspiring message delivered by Dr Misra and Mr Raja hid the reality of a poorly run organisation in chaos.
Counselling: TUI attempts to deradicalise jihadi brides like (from left) Kadiza Sultana, Shamima Begum and Amira Abase
It is understood the letter sent to the Home Office and Probation Service claimed that several employees – known as ‘Intervention Providers’ or IPs – had quit as a result of bullying from the couple or a fear of being criticised if they asked for help.
It also claimed that some IPs were too frightened to take holidays or even days off to attend family funerals.
One former employee, who asked not to be named, alleged his hourly rate was slashed from £80 in early 2018 to £30 just two months later with no explanation.
That was despite TUI claiming £275 an hour from the Home Office for its services.
He became increasingly disillusioned after discovering the difference between TUI’s claim and his rate of pay and eventually quit in March.
‘They were pocketing about £245 for every hour we did,’ he said, adding: ‘We were also made to attend compulsory training sessions for four to five hours every Sunday, but we were not paid, nor our travel expenses covered.’
Describing what he considered to be poor training during which he alleged IPs were not taught how to deradicalise extremists, the source said: ‘The training session involved Usman speaking for four hours, telling us about this hippy version of Islam, which had nothing to do with deradicalisation.’
He said IPs usually met terror suspects and jihadi returnees in probation hostels or cafes and often helped them to fill in online job applications, rather than trying to alter their warped hatred of the West.
‘Most of the time, these people would not be allowed to log on to the internet themselves because of police or probation restrictions, so we would log on for them and watch as they filled in their job applications,’ he claimed. ‘But how is that deradicalising? That could be done by Jobcentre staff.’
TUI recruited IPs from a range of backgrounds and professions, including at least two former minicab drivers with no apparent previous experience or background in deradicalisation work. ‘There was one guy who could not even string a sentence together, and he was hired,’ said a former IP.
According to a source, the Home Office was told that at least one former theme park worker was taken on by TUI and then set to work deradicalising IS returnees.
The whistleblowers also alleged that Dr Misra and Mr Raja paid higher hourly rates to those who were devotees of a cleric called Sheikh Aleey Qadir who the couple followed.
And two former employees said Mr Raja was detained by police following an alleged leak of classified information held by TUI.
It is understood that no further action was taken by the police, but that Mr Raja received a written warning from the Home Office and was banned from providing one-to-one mentoring with extremists himself.
One of the individuals seen by TUI was Lewis Ludlow, a convert who was plotting a devastating terror attack in Oxford Street while being mentored by the company.
The 27-year-old planned to blow up an explosive-laden truck in Central London bringing death and mayhem to one of Britain’s busiest shopping streets.
Ludlow, from Rochester, Kent, had previously been stopped by police at Heathrow Airport while trying to board a plane to the Philippines to join IS’s terrorist wing there.
His plot was foiled because counter-terrorism chiefs had decided to put him under surveillance.
Ludlow was found guilty of terrorism offences and given a life sentence.
Last night the Home Office declined to comment, but a source confirmed that a number of complaints had been made about TUI which had resulted in due diligence checks within the department.
‘In order to get out of the contract, the Home Office offered TUI new terms which were unreasonable, so the company has decided to walk away from the contract,’ the source said, adding that the new Home Secretary, Priti Patel, had expressed concern about the number of ‘bad contracts’ that had been negotiated by the department with private companies.
‘There are too many bad contracts that are too difficult to get out of quickly at the moment,’ the source said. ‘Priti’s finding all sorts of things and is going to get a grip on the way the department contracts services.’
Getting a grip: Home Secretary Priti Patel has raised concern over ‘bad contracts’ that have been negotiated with private companies
In a statement, the Home Office said: ‘Keeping the public safe is our first priority, and an important part of this is working with individuals who have been radicalised to reintegrate them safely back into society.
‘Mentors working to help deradicalise individuals drawn into extremism have a difficult and demanding task and are serving a vital public interest.
‘The wellbeing of these mentors, and the support provided to them, is of critical importance.
‘Home Office suppliers are subject to robust contract management to ensure the highest standards are being delivered.’
Dr Misra and Mr Raja declined numerous requests for comment.
A brief message sent to The Mail on Sunday by the company said that due to the nature of TUI’s work, there are individuals willing to make complaints against it with ‘malicious intent’.
TUI added that it was proud of its work to deradicalise individuals who might pose a danger to society over the past decade.