Deadline for long overdue Prevent review missed in weeks before Sir David Amess’ murder

Report on scheme’s effectiveness stopping people being drawn into terrorism should have been completed last month

Lizzie Dearden
Security Correspondent
Tuesday 19 October 2021 21:27
Priti Patel says MPs will not be ‘cowed’ by David Amess killing

A deadline set by the government for an independent report on the Prevent counter-extremism programme was missed weeks before the murder of Conservative MP Sir David Amess.

The review’s findings will not be published until almost three years after the probe was announced, despite questions over the scheme's effectiveness.

The murder of Sir David, which has been declared a terrorist incident, has sparked fresh concerns about the programme and its ability to stop people being drawn towards violence.

Several terrorists, including those who carried out the 2017 Parsons Green bombing, and Reading and Streatham stabbings last year, had previously been referred to Prevent over suspected radicalisation, as had several extremists jailed for plotting attacks.

Ministers announced that the programme would be independently reviewed in January 2019, following years of accusations that it was stigmatising Muslims and stifling free speech in schools and universities.

But the review has been beset by delays and controversies, with the first leader appointed stepping down amid legal action over alleged bias, and a new boycott announced by human rights groups in February over his successor’s previous remarks.

A Home Office document setting out the review’s aims in March said the report and any recommendations “must be submitted to the home secretary by 30 September 2021, in time for the secretary of state to respond to each recommendation and lay the review report and government response before both Houses of Parliament by 31 December 2021”.

The Independent understands that the report has not yet been completed or submitted to the government, and that Prevent leaders and counter-terror police have not been officially briefed on its recommendations.

Speaking to Sky News on Sunday, Priti Patel said the review would ensure Prevent was “fit for purpose”.

“Prevent is going through an independent review right now. It’s timely to do that, we have to learn, we obviously constantly have to learn, not just from incidences that have taken place but how we can strengthen our programmes,” the home secretary added.

“We want to ensure that it is fit for purpose, robust, doing the right thing. But importantly learning lessons, always building upon what is working and addressing any gaps or issues where the system needs strengthening.”

The review will consider if Prevent is achieving its objectives stopping people from being drawn into terrorism, how effectively it is being implemented and how it can adapt as the terror threat evolves in Britain.

It is being led by William Shawcross, the former chair of the Charity Commission, but some of his prior remarks on Islam sparked a boycott by campaign groups earlier this year.

The appointment of former Charity Commission head William Shawcross as the independent reviewer of Prevent sparked a boycott by charities

Charities including Amnesty International and Liberty said the appointment undermined the review’s credibility, and announced that they would be backing a “People’s Review of Prevent” instead.

John Holmwood, a Nottingham University sociology professor who co-chairs the People's Review of Prevent, said he was “very concerned” about findings leaked to The Times that suggested MI5 could be given a greater role in Prevent cases.

“It indicates that the Shawcross review is placing its emphasis very firmly on a security response directed at children and young people in breach of their rights,” he told The Independent.

“The People's Review of Prevent will provide a measured response designed to provide a voice to the people most impacted by the Prevent duty.”

Some campaign groups have long accused Prevent of targeting Muslims and setting the bar for intervention too low, although police say statistics prove that all demographics and ideologies are considered.

A legal requirement known as the “Prevent duty” for institutions including schools, the NHS and councils to report suspected extremists was introduced in 2015, sparking fresh accusations of state-sanctioned spying.

The government later refused calls for change from the Home Affairs Committee, Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Joint Committee on Human Rights, MPs and charities.

Participation in both the Prevent and Channel programmes is voluntary, and some officials have questioned whether the process should be obligatory after several people referred went on to attempt terror attacks.

Out of 6,287 referrals to Prevent in the year to March 2020, more than half were for individuals with a mixed, unstable or unclear ideology.

Around a quarter of referrals were due to concerns over Islamist radicalisation and 22 per cent related to right-wing radicalisation.

The largest age group was children and young people aged 20 and under, including 1,559 children under the age of 15.

Of those referred to Prevent, 27 per cent were found to “require no further action” after assessment and half were passed on to other services, such as education, housing and mental health, for alternative support.

A further 23 per cent were considered by the Channel counter-radicalisation scheme, which sees people paired with “intervention providers”.

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