William Shawcross issues open letter on UK's Prevent anti-terror scheme

New reviewer will examine effectiveness of anti-radicalisation strategy to stop people being drawn into terrorism

epa06369453 (FILE) - British police on dutyl during a vigil for the victims of the London Bridge terror attacks by the City Hall in London, Britain, 05 June 2017, (reissued 05 December 2017). Media reports on 05 December 2017 state that the report by David Anderson QC, a former terrorism law reviewer asked by the British Home Secretary to audit internal MI5 and police reviews, is published on 05 December 2017. The terror attacks in 2017 - at Manchester Arena, London Bridge, Finsbury Park and Westminster - has placed the spotlight on the British security services. The British internal security service MI5 and police launched internal reviews following the atrocities between March and June 2017 and the findings of the reviews looking at intelligence handling by the organisations are to be seen in the review published by the  Home Secretary.  EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA *** Local Caption *** 53568746
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The UK's new independent reviewer of its Prevent anti-radicalisation scheme wrote an open letter in which he vowed to help prevent further terrorism tragedies.

William Shawcross will lead the review into the programme, which in the year to March 2020 recorded an increase in Islamist extremist radicalisation referrals for the first time in four years.

Mr Shawcross, previously the UK's special representative for victims of IRA terrorism sponsored by former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, will examine the effectiveness of the anti-radicalisation strategy to stop people being drawn into terrorism.

He is calling for those involved in the controversial scheme to help him to conduct a credible review.

"The key to a credible review is to learn from the experiences of you, Prevent practitioners across the country, the civil society organisations delivering Prevent and also from individuals who have been supported or otherwise impacted by the strategy," he said in the letter.

"I know that Prevent is a controversial issue and one which, at times, has aroused animosity and suspicion. I want to better understand that – and much more."

The Prevent programme, launched to monitor potential terrorist activity in the UK, recorded a 10 per cent increase in cases flagged to the authorities in the year to March 2020.

As the independent reviewer, Mr Shawcross will consider the strategy and delivery of the Prevent programme and make recommendations for the future.

"Terrorism is designed to tear societies apart," he wrote.

"And I am sure that you, like me, think constantly of the victims – all those murdered or wounded at the [Manchester Arena] Ariana Grande concert, and their families; the relatives of those young British Muslims enticed to fight for ISIS in Syria; Jo Cox and her family and other victims of far-right terrorism, such as the attack at Finsbury Park mosque in 2017 in Britain.

"We all have an interest in wishing to prevent such tragedies from occurring again and again. That is just one of the reasons as to why I am proud to have been chosen to review Prevent."

The programme was criticised after it was revealed that the 2017 Parsons Green bomber in London, Ahmed Hassan, was being managed by the scheme at the time of his offence.

William Shawcross said he will lead a robust and evidence-based examination of the UK's Prevent anti-radicalisation programme.
William Shawcross said he will lead a robust and evidence-based examination of the UK's Prevent anti-radicalisation programme.

Some Muslim communities also accused the scheme of being a government tool to spy on them.

Mr Shawcross promised to conduct a fair review.

"I am open minded and want to hear all the evidence. And I want to hear the case for Prevent openly and based on evidence that can be tested," he said.

“The aim of the review is to look at the effectiveness of present strategies to protect vulnerable people from being drawn into terrorism and make recommendations for the future.

"The UK faces a range of terrorist threats – including from Islamists and the Far Right – and I am keen to learn more what role Prevent can play in helping address such threats.

"The review is non-partisan and I want to hear from and listen to a wide range of voices from across our different communities. I think the review is an important opportunity to understand the views of critics and supporters of Prevent."

The independent review of Prevent was announced by the government in 2019 as part of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act.

Mr Shawcross’s appointment follows the previous Independent reviewer, Lord Carlile, stepping down in December 2019.

There was a legal challenge against Lord Carlile's appointment by Rights Watch UK. It objected to Lord Carlile because in the past he had declared his strong support for the programme.

Prevent deals with all forms of terrorism, including Islamist and far-right extremism.

From 2012 to March 2020, almost 3,000 people were taken on by Prevent's voluntary and confidential Channel programme.

As part of Prevent, the Channel programme provides tailored support for a person considered vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism.

In the year ended March 31, 2020, there were 6,287 referrals to Prevent.

Of those referred to Prevent in 2019-2020, 1,487 (24 per cent) were referred because of concerns related to Islamist radicalisation and 1,387 (22 per cent) were referred over concerns related to far-right extremism.