Anti-extremist scheme 'spies on Muslims'

A key government policy on countering extremism in Britain has "stigmatised and alienated" Muslims and undermined community relations, a Commons report says today.

Many Muslims told the cross-party committee of MPs that they believed the purpose of the Prevent programme was to "spy" on Asian communities, and that the Government was using funding to engineer a moderate form of acceptable Islam.

The Communities and Local Government Committee said ministers should investigate claims the strategy had been hijacked by police and MI5 to gather intelligence on alleged radicals.

Committee chairman Phyllis Starkey said: "Many witnesses believe Prevent has been used to 'spy' on Muslim communities. The misuse of terms such as 'intelligence gathering' among Prevent partners has clearly discredited the programme and fed distrust.

"Information required to manage Prevent has been confused with intelligence gathering undertaken by the police to combat crime, and surveillance used by the security services to actively pursue terrorism suspects.

"These allegations of spying under Prevent will retain widespread credibility within some communities until the Government commissions an independent investigation into the allegations," she added.

Through a series of community measures the stated aim of Prevent is to stop radicalisation, reduce support for terrorism and violent extremism and discourage people from becoming terrorists. The cross-party report called for parts of the programme linked to crime prevention, such as mentoring and counselling for young radicals, to be handed to the Home Office.

But a spokesman for the Communities and Local Government department said it was "disappointed" the report did not reflect changes made in the last year in response to criticisms of Prevent. In recent months ministers have pointed to the increased role the scheme plays in targeting other forms of radicalism, such as far-right Neo-Nazi groups.

He said: "All Prevent activities are designed to support Muslim communities in resisting those who target their young people," adding that there was no "substantiated evidence" that Prevent programmes were keeping Muslim communities under surveillance.