British Muslims 'should be allowed to bypass police' when reporting hate crime, Andy Burnham says

Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham has called for a root-and-branch review of the controversial Prevent policy

Jon Stone
Monday 26 September 2016 19:12 BST
There has been a spike in religious and racial hate crime since the EU referendum
There has been a spike in religious and racial hate crime since the EU referendum (Timothy Allen)

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British Muslims should be given a new way of reporting hate crimes that bypasses the police, because the Government’s controversial Prevent anti-extremism strategy has ruined trust between the two parties, Andy Burnham has suggested.

The shadow Home Secretary called for a “root and branch review” of Prevent and said the true scale of Islamophobic hate crimes was being hidden because Muslims were reticent to report such crimes to an institution involved in monitoring them.

Mr Burnham, who is Labour’s candidate for Mayor of Greater Manchester, compared Prevent to the French ban on the burkini swimming costume and said it “singles out one community for different treatment”. He said such an approach risked legitimising or inspiring Islamophobic hate crime.

Earlier this year the UN special rapporteur on the right to freedom of assembly warned that Prevent could actually end up promoting extremism, describing it as a “Big Brother” approach.

The strategy is aimed at preventing people from becoming “radicalised” and turning to terrorism. Provisions include giving public bodies, including teachers, a statutory duty to report so-called signs of extremism. These may however include innocuous and entirely legal activities such as people becoming more religious or expressing anti-establishment views. Teaching unions have voted to boycott elements of the programme.

“If people have a feeling that the bodies that they would go to are also simultaneously being asked to monitor them there’s a possible conflict of interest there isn’t there?” Mr Burnham told a fringe event at Labour conference organised by the Mend (Muslim Engagement & Development), a not-for-profit company that aims to enhance the engagement of British Muslims in national life.

“Then people won’t feel able to come forward and say exactly what’s happening to them and their family if they also feel they’re being monitored in some way. Is there then a need to create trusted third parties for reporting hate crime so that it isn’t the case that people have to go directly to the police or possible the council?”

Mr Burnham made his comments after reviewing research by Mend which found that race and religious hate crime had been rising year-on-year in the recent past – as well as a dramatic spike round the EU referendum.

A survey of Muslims conducted by the organisation also found that people who said they had suffered Islamophobic discrimination in the workplace and other areas were unlikely to report it: 61 per cent of people affected said they had not reported workplace discrimination to anyone, and most who did reported it only to friend and family.

Mr Burnham told the fringe meeting: “I think what we mustn’t do is fall into the trap into which the French have fallen into over a number of years which is to develop a policy agenda that looks like it is targeting one community. We saw that in the summer with the burkini ban.

“Our equivalent here, you might say, is Prevent: an approach to policy that singles out one community for different treatment. That is highly problematic, I would say.

“In the midst of all these figures we’ve seen, we know that it is Islamophobia that is absolutely the most virulent strand of this hate that is coming forward.

“If governments are doing things to almost legitimise things in some way by saying this community does need to be treated differently, it does need to be watched at a local level, because there’s danger here in terms of behaviour, that is highly problematic.”

The shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham (Getty)
The shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham (Getty) (Getty Images)

He added: “There’s a lot of people in this country not necessarily at risk from ‘Islamic extremism’ but it’s far-right extremism. That’s what we’re talking about here, but where is the statutory duty on that? … There are so many issues with it that it needs a root and branch review.”

The Home Office has defended Prevent. A spokesperson previously said: “Prevent does not target a specific faith or ethnic group – it deals with all forms of extremism. Rather, Prevent protects those who are targeted by terrorist recruiters. This is challenging but absolutely necessary work. Currently the greatest threat comes from terrorist recruiters inspired by Isis.

“Our Prevent programme will necessarily reflect this by prioritising support for vulnerable British Muslims, and working in partnership with British Muslim communities and civil society groups.

“We have explicitly said that schools should be safe spaces in which children and young people can understand and discuss sensitive topics. That includes terrorism and the extremist ideas that are part of terrorist ideology. They need to learn how to challenge these ideas. Ideas that they see in the newspapers and on the internet every day.

"We expect schools to be proactive in challenging intolerance in the classroom and in school communities. We cannot be neutral in the face of intolerance.”

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