Under-18s most likely age group to commit terrorist offences for first time

Child at computer
Child at computer

Children are more likely than any other age group to be convicted of terrorist offences for the first time, Home Office figures show.

Under-18s accounted for eight of the 19 people convicted of terror-related offences in the year to March 2024, the first time they have outnumbered all other age groups.

The next highest were people aged 25 to 29 with five in this age group among the convicted. Children and adults under the age of 30 accounted for all but two of the 19 offenders successfully prosecuted for terror-related offences.

The shift reflects a growing threat of children being radicalised on the internet by the wide availability of terror and extremist material.

A report by Ofcom, the online watchdog, found nine per cent of social media users had been exposed to “radicalisation or terrorism” within the past three months.

Accelerated by Covid lockdowns

Senior police chiefs believe the trend has been accelerated by the Covid lockdowns when children were isolated with more time spent online, often unsupervised.

In a report Jonathan Hall, KC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, warned of the risk that “more and more children are being drawn through the internet into terrorist offending, which poses acute dilemmas for law enforcement and society at large”.

He said: “It goes without saying that radicalised children can pose a serious terrorist risk; for them, the consequences of being arrested and prosecuted for terrorism offences have a profound impact on life chances and their families.”

Mr Hall has proposed new legal terrorism orders specifically for children where they would be compelled to accept help or face jail.

“I’m not talking about the most serious cases, where prosecution will usually remain the best option,” he said. “But there has been a slew of internet cases where the suspected terrorist conduct all relates to what children are saying or downloading online.

“There is a repeat pattern of particular offences, which I call documentary offences – instruction manuals, terrorist publications, encouragement – all internet-based, where there is no evidence of attack planning.

“These offences were created at a time when there was a clearer link between words and violence, in the context of the IRA and al-Qaeda. That link is less clear for children online.”

The Home Office figures show that arrests for terror-related offences rose overall by 23 per cent from 172 to 212. Of these, children under 18 accounted for 40, up by 67 per cent from 24 in a year. This compares with six children arrested for terrorism related offences a decade ago.

Mr Hall said it was very rare for children to be involved in completed terror attacks but warned that the online influence of those that were radicalised could be significant, citing the case of Daniel Harris, 19.

Youngest was a 14-year-old

Harris, from Glossop, Derbyshire, was jailed for more than years after his far-Right, racist videos influenced a gunman behind a US mass shooting. The videos that Harris posted were shared by Payton Gendron, who killed 10 people in Buffalo, New York in 2022.

The youngest person to be convicted of terror offences was a 14-year-old who admitted three counts of possessing information useful to a terrorist.

In April 2024 a 16-year-old was jailed for seven years for planning a terrorist attack. When arrested the boy, from the Isle of Wight, was found with a knife and notes that contained information relating to his plan. He also shared terrorist publications inspired by Islamic State with others online.

Det Chief Supt Olly Wright said: “We know that terrorist groups use their toxic rhetoric to try to exploit vulnerable people.

“This case was particularly concerning because a teenager had gone so far as taking active steps to prepare for an attack. Thanks to a swift response we were able to stop him.”

Dan Jarvis, Labour’s shadow security minister, said: “After years of warnings of online radicalisation, the Government has sat on its heels and these astonishing figures are the outcome. That more children are being arrested for terror offences is an indictment of Tory failure to keep this country safe.

“We need urgent action to prevent our young people from being radicalised by poisonous ideologies. Labour will update the rules around counter-extremism, including online, to stop people being drawn towards hateful ideologies.”

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