Counter-terrorism scheme sees surge in right-wing extremism cases
Hundreds of children and teenagers have been flagged up to a counter-terrorism programme over right-wing extremism.
New figures released by the Home Office show that in 2016/17 there were 272 under-15s and 328 young people aged 15 to 20 referred to the Prevent scheme over suspected right-wing terrorist beliefs.
Across all ages, 968 referrals were made linked to right-wing extremism, an increase of more than a quarter on the previous year when 759 individuals were highlighted as being of concern.
The threat from right-wing extremism has grown in recent years, with domestic groups in the UK forming international networks with hate-filled groups in Europe. In 2017 British police and security services foiled four murderous right-wing plots.
Prevent, which has an annual budget of about £40 million, aims to stop people being drawn into terrorism.
Anyone concerned that someone they know is at risk of radicalisation can refer them to Prevent, but only a small percentage of cases are deemed to require anti-extremism action.
When authorities conclude there is a risk the person could be drawn into terrorism, the case will move to the Channel scheme. A panel of support workers including police and local authority staff then assess what support the person needs.
The number of cases passed on to a Channel panel in relation to extreme right-wing concerns went up by 44% from 188 in 2015/16 to 271 in 2016/2017; and the number of individuals felt to need support after that also rose by 27% (98 in 2015/16, and 124 in 2016/17).
Those referred for extreme right-wing concerns were more likely to need support after the panel (124 of 271; 46%) than those with Islamist concerns (184 of 760; 24%).
In total in 2016/17, the Home Office figures showed:
- 6,093 individuals were referred to Prevent, a 20% drop compared to 2015/16 when 7,631 were flagged up to the scheme
- 1,071 cases were passed on for discussion by a Channel panel - a rise of 7% on the previous year when 1,146 were referred
- 332 people went on to receive further Channel support following a Channel panel - a 13% drop on the previous year from 380
- Most of the referrals, 61% (3,704), were over Islamist extremism, although this was a decrease of 26% on the previous year (4,997)
- The education sector (1,976) and police (1,946) each made 32% of the total referrals in 2016/17
Prevent has come under renewed scrutiny recently after it emerged that Parsons Green Tube bomber Ahmed Hassan was referred to the scheme.
Police said he duped support workers by "appearing to engage with the programme" when all the time he was plotting to cause carnage.
Staff from various agencies met him several times between February 2016 and September 2017, and he received "extensive support" in mental health and education, but was not deterred from his murderous plans.
Security Minister Ben Wallace said: "The Prevent programme is fundamentally about protecting people who are vulnerable to all forms of radicalisation and has stopped hundreds of individuals being drawn towards terrorism and violence.
"The figures released today show that the programme is continuously improving, demonstrated by better referrals being made and the fact that we are tackling the threat from the far-right.
"We have seen all too starkly the devastating consequences of radicalisation and the need for a co-ordinated response at a local and national level. We will continue to work with partners to improve and make sure this crucial support is given to those who need it."
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott highlighted that 2,199 or 36% of the cases referred to Prevent had been found to require no further action.
She said: "This report will not allay the widespread concerns about the Prevent programme.
"Tackling terrorism is an absolute priority but the police are being forced to do it with one hand tied behind their backs by Tory cuts. The Prevent programme clearly has flaws and should be subject to a wide-ranging review."