The Prevent programme is the UK’s ‘best chance’ of reducing the threat from terrorism, says the national head of Counter Terrorism Policing, Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu.
Prevent aims to safeguard and support those most at risk of radicalisation through early intervention and enable those who have already engaged in terrorism to disengage and rehabilitate.
But without better support for this part of the government’s CONTEST strategy, Mr Basu believes we will continue to face a SEVERE threat level (meaning an attack is highly likely) for years to come.
“Prevent is the most important pillar of CONTEST,” he said.
“In an ideal world you don’t want to have to investigate murder in Counter Terrorism work, and the best way to stop them happening is to identify a problem before people even think about becoming terrorists.
“The only way you can do that is to get right to the start of the radicalisation cycle and understand why it is happening. When you understand why, you can then place protections around people to stop it and protect them from further risk of harm.
“If we do not have a proper preventative strategy in place, then we will be running at a high threat level for the foreseeable future.”
The CT policing network is currently working on a record number of just under 800 investigations, and since March 2017, CT Policing and UK Intelligence Services have stopped 19 attacks – 14 being Islamist related and five Extreme Right Wing (XRW).
This mix of ideologies is fully represented in the latest Prevent data, where referrals for right wing ideology have been steadily growing while those for Islamist ideology have been shrinking.
In the years after its inception Prevent had been criticised for focussing solely on Muslim communities, when in reality it has always been a safeguarding scheme designed to protect vulnerable people against radicalisation from any ideology.
Assistant Commissioner Basu recognised that a lack of communication in the earlier years of the Prevent strategy had allowed critics to gain too strong a voice.
“We need better communication, more transparency and no longer allowing an information vacuum to give people opportunity to attack Prevent without any rebuttal,” he said.
“It has always been a safeguarding strategy, but the communication around it was badly handled in those earlier years.
“We needed to be more positive about Prevent earlier on, but we are better at that now.
“One of the best things that has happened recently is the announcement of an independent review of Prevent.
“When I speak to Prevent practitioners, especially those who work for me, it is amazing work and I want the independent reviewer to go and see this work in action, because there is a lot to be proud of.”
Mr Basu believes the independent review – which was announced by the government earlier this year – will demonstrate that, in essence, Prevent is about community support and counselling.
He added: “The fight to win back trust in the Prevent programme won’t be won by people like me, senior police officers or senior members of government; it will be won by people rooted in local communities who walk into town halls and community centres to explain what Prevent is and what they are doing.
“Our role should instead be explaining why this is such an important pillar of this country’s strategy to keep people safe from terrorism.
“It should be explaining why it is not about a single religion or ideology, it is about stopping people becoming terrorists – regardless of ideology – and getting to them before they become criminals so there is a chance to offer them a way out.”