'Spy' slurs undermine anti-terror programme - Home Secretary

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The Government's anti-terror Prevent programme is being "actively undermined" by those who accuse it of being about spying, the Home Secretary has said.

Amber Rudd said the aims of the scheme - stopping people being drawn into terrorism - should not be considered controversial, as there is "ongoing debate" about whether the voluntary programme could become compulsory in some areas.

New figures show police received around 200 referrals to Prevent from within communities from April to the end of July - compared with about 100 in the previous four months.

The rise in tip-offs coincides with the spate of terrorist incidents that began with the Westminster atrocity on March 22, followed by attacks in Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury Park.

Writing in the Sun, Ms Rudd said: "Stopping people committing appalling acts of terror is something we should all want. It should go without saying.

"Yet there are some who actively seek to undermine the Prevent programme without offering any meaningful alternatives. They say it is about spying."

She told the paper: "Prevent has made a significant impact in preventing people being drawn into terrorism and it is here to stay."

Prevent has been credited with playing a role in disrupting more than 150 attempted journeys to the conflicts in Iraq and Syria.

But the programme has repeatedly come under fire, with critics labelling it heavy-handed and "toxic" amid claims it unfairly focuses on the Muslim community. 

Simon Cole, chief constable of Leicestershire Police and the national policing lead for Prevent, acknowledged there were people with genuine and legitimate concerns but issued a staunch defence of the scheme. 

He said: "This notion of Prevent as a 'toxic' brand is simply incorrect, and is borne from misunderstanding. 

"What I would like to hear more of is constructive dialogue about how we can all work together to stop innocent people being killed. 

"On occasions it feels like people are sniping for the sake of it and that what they're talking about doesn't reflect the reality of local delivery of the voluntary safeguarding that I see going on all across the country."