UK’s Prevent terror strategy review to address classifying extremists as victims

Shawcross report expected to warn that treating potentially dangerous people as vulnerable presents serious security issues

FILE - This s a May 23, 2017 file photo of members of the  emergency services  attending the scene at Manchester Arena after reports of an explosion at the venue during an Ariana Grande gig. An independent review of the counter-terrorism performance by British police and intelligence services rleease on Tuesday Dec. 5, 2017  suggested that the deadly suicide bombing at Manchester Arena might have been prevented if information had been handled differently.  (Peter Byrne/PA, File via AP)
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The classification of extremists as vulnerable people is a “mischaracterisation”, the author of a review of the UK’s Prevent strategy is expected to say.

William Shawcross, author of the review, is understood to have taken issue with how the government’s counter-terrorism programme is categorising potentially dangerous men and women as vulnerable.

His review is expected to highlight that Islamic extremists, in particular, are being treated as victims rather than the public being shielded from the threat they pose.

Excerpts of the long-awaited report have been leaked to media outlets ahead of its release on Wednesday.

A draft of the document seen by The Daily Telegraph signalled grounds for a potential shake-up of the strategy.

“Prevent is a crucial pillar of the UK’s counter-terrorism architecture, yet it has increasingly come to be seen as synonymous with safeguarding (i.e. an emphasis on protecting those referred into Prevent from harm and addressing their personal vulnerabilities),” the draft said.

Mr Shawcross, a former chairman of the Charity Commission, is expected to say that the “mischaracterisation” of extremism has led to a failure by officials to adequately address the radical beliefs fuelling extremist ideology. This policy, he said, brings “potentially serious consequences” for Britain’s security.

Paul Stott, a security expert, last month told The National that a shake-up of Prevent was long overdue and should include clarification on non-ideological extremism.

The head of security and extremism at the Policy Exchange in London said people were being flagged to officials as potential extremists, when mental health support was what they required.

Only a small percentage of terrorists in British prisons are classified as having no specific ideology, yet vast amounts of resources are being used up by Prevent officials to deal with people placed in this vague category.

“An enormous amount of Prevent referrals are being made for those showing mixed, unclear or unstable ideologies,” Mr Stott said.

“It’s a catch-all category. I hope the Shawcross review will give some clarity to that because it does not appear to have the same logic or the same basis as Islamist or far-right extremism.

“It’s just not clear what these individuals are suffering from.

“The suspicion is that it is mental health support that is needed and it will be fast-tracked.”

The Prevent strategy has in the past come under fire, with some critics claiming it has been too soft on Islamist extremists while mosques argue it treats Muslims unfairly.

Seven of the 13 terrorist attacks on UK soil in the past six years were carried out by radicals who had been referred to Prevent.

These included the man convicted of murdering Conservative MP David Amess at a constituency surgery.

Schoolboys account for the highest proportion of people considered to be most vulnerable to radicalisation, recent figures from Prevent showed.

There were 6,406 referrals to Prevent in the year to March 2022 — up 30 per cent on the previous 12-month period when 4,915 were made.

The surge is likely to have been driven by the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions.

The education sector made the highest number of referrals (2,305, or 36 per cent of the total), replacing the police, which made up 28 per cent (1,808).

Updated: February 07, 2023, 1:28 PM