Nine-year-old boy who stood up in class and declared allegiance to Isis among thousands of children referred to Prevent programme

Statistics released for the first time show cases of suspected far-right extremism are rising 

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 09 November 2017 11:30 GMT
Haaruun* had watched violent Isis propaganda videos online after searching for information on the Paris attacks
Haaruun* had watched violent Isis propaganda videos online after searching for information on the Paris attacks

A nine-year-old boy who stood up in class to declare his support for Isis is among thousands of children referred to the Government's counter-extremism programme.

The majority were flagged to Prevent because of concerns over potential Islamist views but the number attracted to the extreme far-right is growing.

In one case revealed by the Home Office, teachers reported a boy from West London who declared his support for Isis after watching violent propaganda videos online.

A senior Home Office official said Haaruun* “stood up in class and said he supported Isis”, adding: “He had watched Isis execution videos after searching for news coverage of the Paris attacks.

“It led to him to ones showing brutal executions and burning people.”

After a year of support, including mentoring and counselling through the Government’s anti-radicalisation programme, case workers say he has “turned his life around”.

Of the total 7,631 people referred to Prevent in the 2015/16 financial year, 65 per cent (4,997) were suspected of Islamist extremism and 10 per cent (759) of right-wing extremism.

Officials said Sikh and Northern Ireland-related radicalism was also seen, while a significant proportion could not be put into one category because of a more general “propensity towards mass murder and violence” that covers several groups.

MI5 chief warns that Britain is facing an unrelenting terrorist threat

The majority of those referred were men and boys aged 20 and under, with ages spanning between young children and the over 60s.

More than 2,100 referred were under the age of 15, with the group including 532 girls, while 2,100 more were between 15 and 20 and another 1,200 aged 21 to 30.

London saw the highest number of referrals, followed by the East Midlands, North East, North West and West Midlands, with most people reported by teachers, police or local councils.

Around a third of all those flagged were deemed to need no further action, half were passed on to alternative services and 14 per cent were considered by the counter-radicalisation Channel programme.

The breakdown means that only 5 per cent of those referred received specialist help to stop them being drawn into radicalisation, including ideological and religious mentoring.

Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, said the figure showed that Prevent – which costs around £46m a year - “isn’t working”, vowing that Labour would review the controversial programme if in Government.

People reported to the initiative go through several levels of screening and only those who police are not investigating for terrorism are considered for help from Channel – a voluntary scheme that aims to turn people away from extremist ideology.

It offers support with mental health, employment and education, as well as offering ideological mentoring, until a specialist panel decides they are ready to leave the programme.

Around 70 per cent of people doing through Channel are Islamists but more than a quarter are right-wing extremists and officials expect the number to rise this year, which has seen National Action become the first far-right group banned as a terrorist organisation in the UK.

The number of people referred to Prevent over far-right extremism is rising
The number of people referred to Prevent over far-right extremism is rising (National Action)

One man, 47-year-old Dan*, was a neo-Nazi who became involved in “white power” groups while drinking heavily.

He said Channel had made him feel “more valued as a person and made me see there was more to life than what I was doing”, adding: “Without the help of this process, I am sure I would be in prison now.”

But 63 people - one in six - dropped out of the scheme in 2015/16, leaving any potential terror risk they pose to be assessed by the police

The senior Home Office official refused to confirm whether any former Channel subjects had gone on to commit terror offences, following a series of Isis-linked attacks carried out by jihadis who had been reported to authorities and were “known” to security services.

“Prevent doesn’t claim to be 100 per cent successful… Channel panel members can’t predict the future,” he said.

“People on Channel are not suspected of being terrorists, they are vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism.”

The programme will not be used for Isis fighters returning from the group’s former territories in Syria and Iraq, who are likely to be prosecuted or subjected to control orders by police and intelligence services.

Asked whether the Government’s attempts to remove terrorist propaganda from the internet were successful, leaders said it was more important to “inoculate young people against extremist content”.

A Prevent co-ordinator said authorities were playing “whack-a-mole” with new technology.

“We have to be realistic – that content is always going to be there and it will still proliferate,” he added.

The chief suspect for the Parsons Green bombing had reportedly been reported to Prevent
The chief suspect for the Parsons Green bombing had reportedly been reported to Prevent (EPA/WILL OLIVER)

“Online propaganda is accelerating radicalisation…it is the petrol poured on the fire but it’s not the tinder that starts the fire in the first place.”

Officials said many of the children seen are on the autistic spectrum, while mental health issues are common.

Half the people referred to Prevent are eventually referred to other services, including education, local councils, health and community groups because their “vulnerability is assessed as not linked to radicalisation”.

A Channel intervention provider specialising in the far-right said education was needed to ensure people know the methods being used by extremists to target them.

“You can’t police the internet,” he added. “As a society we need to understand where the risks are and investigate those who are vulnerable…so they can be resilient.”

Prevent is supporting youth groups and schemes for both children and adults to raise awareness of extremist content online.

It is also pushing for the creation of “counter-narratives” that can be used to combat extremist messaging.

“What Isis and these other groups have understood is that young people need narratives, and they’ve created narratives that make a complicated world seem very simple,” an Islamist intervention provider warned.

Prevent – set up over a decade ago as part of the Government’s wider Contest counter-terror strategy – has been dogged by controversy and opposition by groups accusing it of discriminating against Muslims and worsening radicalisation.

By releasing detailed statistics on referrals for the first time, the Home Office is hoping to combat suspicion and mistrust around its counter-extremism strategy, and improve engagement.

Despite the large number of cases needing no further action, officials said no reports had been made “unnecessarily”, but a human rights group hit out at the “potentially devastating and stigmatising effects on those incorrectly referred”.

Martha Spurrier, the director of Liberty, said: “Religious groups, teachers, students and cross-party politicians have all raised serious concerns that Prevent fuels racial and religious discrimination – yet the Government has failed to publish any figures on the religion or ethnicity of those referred.

"How can ministers even begin to command public trust in Prevent without real honesty and transparency about its impact?"

Chief Constable Simon Cole, the National Police Chief's Council (NPCC) lead for Prevent, said it needed public support to be successful.

“Each of these 7,631 referrals was someone trying to guide a person they had concerns about away from harm and towards the help they may have needed," he added.

“Partners in the police and other public sectors are getting better at identifying appropriate referrals. But if we are to successfully stop vulnerable people from being drawn into violent extremism, then family members, friends and community leaders must come forward sooner to us with their concerns.”

Ben Wallace, the security minister, said the Prevent programme was “just one of a number of ways to safeguard vulnerable people from exploitation”.

“The voluntary Channel scheme has seen real results in helping divert people away from terrorism and violence," he added. “The programme is helping to save lives and keep us safe.”

*Names have been changed to protect confidentiality

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in