UK terrorist prevention review to be fast-tracked after killing of MP Amess

Report into anti-radicalisation strategy Prevent to be published 'as quickly as possible'

The Rev Clifford Newman, fourth left, talks with Julia Amess, the widow of Conservative MP David Amess, as friends and family members view flowers and tributes outside Belfairs Methodist Church in Essex. AP.
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The British government is to speed through its review of its counterterrorist radicalisation strategy after the fatal stabbing of MP Sir David Amess.

Government sources have disclosed that the examination of Prevent’s effectiveness will be published “as quickly as possible” after the suspect in Amess's killing apparently slipped through the system.

The effectiveness of Prevent, which aims to turn people away from extremist indoctrination, has been questioned after several incidents in which individuals have attended the programme only to become radicalised later.

A man identified as Ali Harbi Ali, who was arrested after the MP was killed in Essex on Friday, attended the programme after concerns over his views but then left it several years ago. It is understood that Mr Ali did not spend long in Prevent and was also never a formal subject of interest to MI5, the security service.

He is reportedly the son of a former adviser to the prime minister of Somalia, with other relatives apparently having been in diplomatic or advisory roles for the country’s government.

Police said the early investigation revealed a “potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism”.

Detectives will be following several different lines of inquiry to work out the motive.

Counterterrorism police have previously warned of the dangers of increasing numbers of people potentially becoming radicalised during coronavirus lockdowns while spending more time online.

The Prevent system is voluntary although there have been calls for it to be made mandatory to attend.

That could be among the recommendations presented when the much-delayed review is published in the coming months.

Pressed on when the report would be released soon, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said that while MPs' security was “always kept under review”, the government wanted “to do everything possible so MPs can carry out their vital work”.

He said that while a date had yet to be fixed, careful consideration was being given to bring the review forward for publication. The Home Secretary Priti Patel had also asked for an update, he said.

Police have been contacting MPs and Cabinet ministers to review their security.

Mr Johnson was determined MPs would not be intimidated by “those who seek to divide us with hate”, his spokesman said.

“The prime minister has shared his concerns,” he said.

The Prevent review, announced in January 2019, has been beset by delays but the government eventually appointed former charity watchdog chief William Shawcross to lead it this year.

He will consider Britain’s strategy for protecting people vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism and will make recommendations for the future.

Prevent makes it a legal duty for schools, hospitals, prisons and local authorities to report concerns they might have about employees being radicalised.

The strategy is understood to have diverted a number of vulnerable men and women from becoming terrorists.

The independent review will consider the strategy, delivery and future of the Prevent programme.

“I intend to lead a robust and evidence-based examination of the programme, to help ensure that Britain has a clear and effective strategy to protect vulnerable people from being drawn into terrorism,” Mr Shawcross said upon his appointment in January.

Sir David Amess incident - in pictures

Meanwhile, the UK government has been accused of ignoring top-level advice to change laws to curb hate, as a former policing boss gave a warning that existing legislation allows people to “glorify terrorism”.

Sir Mark Rowley, co-author of a review into the country’s counterterrorism strategies, said eight months after submitting the findings of his probe he has yet to hear anything back from ministers.

He said the review, which he carried out in collaboration with the Commission for Countering Extremism, found new laws were needed to stop hateful groups from “operating with impunity”.

Mr Rowley’s review, submitted in February, said extremists were exploiting gaps within existing hate crime and terrorism legislation.

It argued that terrorists, including the London Bridge attack ringleader, could have been arrested earlier had tighter laws been in place.

Mr Rowley, who retired as the head of UK counterterrorism policing in 2018, said that without action from the government, loopholes exist that leave Britain vulnerable to terrorist groups.

The Amess family urged people to be tolerant and “set aside hatred” as counterterrorism officers investigate his killing.

They said they were “absolutely broken” after he was stabbed while meeting constituents at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, at one of his regular surgeries in his Southend West constituency on Friday.

Amess, a married father-of-five, died at the scene.

“Strong and courageous is an appropriate way to describe David," his family said in a statement released by the London's Metropolitan Police. "He was a patriot and a man of peace.

“So we ask people to set aside their differences and show kindness and love to all. This is the only way forward. Set aside hatred and work towards togetherness.

“Whatever one’s race, religious or political beliefs, be tolerant and try to understand.

“As a family, we are trying to understand why this awful thing has occurred. Nobody should die in that way. Nobody.”

The MP's widow Julia Amess visited Belfairs Methodist Church on Monday morning accompanied by family members. She was seen wiping away tears as she read messages on floral tributes placed outside the building.

Updated: October 18, 2021, 3:08 PM