The UK’s counter-extremism programme has spectacularly failed repeatedly to identify attackers while downplaying the role of Islamist ideology, a highly critical review has concluded.
The report from the Home Office’s hand-picked reviewer says the Prevent strategy has simply lost its way.
Wednesday’s publication of William Shawcross’s review into Prevent follows months of delays caused by ministerial tussles over redactions and the language in the report, sources said.
William Shawcross said that Prevent has funded a group whose head was sympathetic to the Afghan Taliban.
Prevent is a key part of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy. In practical terms, it places public bodies, including schools and the police, under a legal duty to identify people who may turn to extremism, and intervene in their lives before it is too late.
If the local panels find someone who is at risk of becoming a terrorist, the Prevent teams use specialist mentors or other support programmes to turn around their lives.
The Guardian disclosed in May that the review claimed there has been a “double standard” approach to tackling different forms of extremism, with individuals targeted for expressing mainstream rightwing views because the definition of the extreme far right had been expanded too widely, while the focus on Islamist extremism has been too narrow.
One Whitehall source with knowledge of the report said there was a concern in government that legitimate rightwing views, such as concern about the scale of immigration, could be viewed as a sign of extremism, The Guardian reported.
The review’s 34 recommendations include clarifying Prevent’s objectives, including stopping funding going to Islamist groups or others not directly involved in counter-extremism work.
The number of referrals to Prevent relating to far-right extremism exceeded those for Islamist radicalisation for the first time in 2021.
Referrals for far-right threats from the Prevent programme to Channel, which provides more intensive intervention, had already outstripped Islamist radicalisation since 2020.
Prevent receives £40m to help steer people away from extremism.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman “wholeheartedly” accepted all 34 recommendations and told MPs that Prevent needs major reform.
Speaking to MPs, Ms Braverman said she would implement all the recommendations and report back next year.
“The review is unflinching. Prevent needs major reform,” she said.
“Prevent has shown cultural timidity and an institutional hesitancy to tackle Islamism for fear of the charge of Islamophobia. Prevent’s focus must be solely on security, not political correctness.”
Some of the recommendations in Shawcross’ report include the following:
- Amend the 2015 Counter Terrorism and Security Act to stipulate that relevant agencies must “have due regard to the need to prevent people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism”. This alters the current duty to “have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. Amend duty guidance and CONTEST accordingly.
- Explore extending the Prevent Duty to immigration and asylum (through UK Border Force, Immigration and Protection Directorate) and to job centres (via the Department for Work and Pensions).
- Move national Prevent delivery to a regionalised model that has consistent lines with the centre of Prevent in the Home Office. “Regional Prevent advisers should sit alongside the same geographic areas as regional counter-terrorism units. Advisers should support, oversee, and guide Prevent delivery within their region and serve as a communication point between central and local Government.”
- Streamline the Channel case management process by testing a hybrid model for referrals, risk assessment and information gathering. “The Police and local authorities would handle referrals simultaneously. Initial discussions with the referee would be carried out by either of these authorities, while the Police would complete risk assessments and information gathering.”
- Develop a new training and induction package for all government and public sector staff working in counter-extremism and counter-terrorism.
- Training for Prevent, Channel, and public sector staff subject to the duty should include clear guidance on how and when to make appropriate referral decisions. “Training must clearly specify new Prevent thresholds and the requirement to ensure referrals have an identifiable ideological element and terrorism risk. Thresholds and decision-making must be implemented consistently across all ideological threats.”
- Create a new standards and compliance unit answerable to ministers on the Prevent oversight board. The purpose of the unit should be to process and investigate complaints from Prevent practitioners and the wider public.
Work to implement the recommendations of the review has already started, and the majority of recommendations are expected to be actioned within 12 months, the Home Office has said.
A report on the implementation of the recommendations will be delivered a year from now, it added.
Source(s): BBC, The Guardian