Home Secretary Suella Braverman said reform of Prevent ‘must solely [focus] on security, not political correctness’, after a review into the Government’s flagship anti-terror programme found it was not doing enough to tackle ‘non-violent Islamist extremism’.
The long-awaited report on the Prevent programme by former Charity Commission chair William Shawcross said officials had a ‘double standard when dealing with the Extreme Right-Wing and Islamism’.
Addressing MPs in the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon, Suella Braverman pledged to ‘swiftly implement’ all 34 of the review’s recommendations, and report back on her progress with overhauling Prevent in a year.
Speaking after its publication, she said: ‘Prevent’s focus must solely be on security, not political correctness.’
Ms Braverman also said that antisemitism had been ‘tolerated, normalised and even accepted for too long in the UK.’
Among the terrorists who had been referred to Prevent was Ali Harbi Ali, 26, who murdered veteran MP Sir David Amess in 2021
Usman Khan, 28, pictured at Bank station on his way to attend a prisoner rehabilitation event on London Bridge, where he stabbed two young graduates to death. Khan had come into contact with Prevent officers who had ‘no specific training’ in handling terrorists, an inquest heard
She added: ‘This review makes clear that this double standard must change, and so Prevent will do more to recognise and combat the prevalence of antisemitism in extremist ideology and narratives.’
The scheme – which aims to stop people turning to terrorism – needs to ‘better understand the threats we face and the ideology underpinning them’, she added.
Four recent attacks by Islamist terrorists who had been referred to Prevent
SOUTHEND – October 15, 2021: Tory MP Sir David Amess was fatally stabbed outside Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea near Southend while attending a constituency surgery. Ali Harbi Ali, 26, was referred to Prevent seven years ago.
READING – June 20, 2020: Khairi Saadallah, 27, fatally stabbed friends James Furlong, 36, Dr David Wails, 49, and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, in a knife attack at a town centre park. He later admitted the murders and was sentenced to a whole life order in prison. The Reading Refugee Support Group warned Prevent officials he could carry out a ‘London Bridge-style attack’. However, he was found to not have a ‘fixed ideology, the Independent reported.
STREATHAM – February 2, 2020: Sudesh Amman was shot dead by police after stabbing two people on a busy street in the south London area of Streatham while wearing a fake suicide vest. He was referred to Prevent but the panel decided his case did not require intervention.
LONDON BRIDGE – November 29, 2019: Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, were stabbed to death by Usman Khan, 28, at a prisoner rehabilitation event. A man and two women were also injured before Khan, who was released from prison on licence in December 2018, was shot dead by armed officers on the bridge. An inquest heard his Prevent officers had ‘no specific training’ in handling terrorists.
PARSONS GREEN – September 15, 2017: Ahmed Hassan’s homemade bomb partially exploded on a London Underground rush hour train, injuring more than 50 people. He was sentenced to life with a minimum jail term of 34 years. He was referred to Prevent 20 months before he planted the bomb.
The report, which was first ordered by former Home Secretary Priti Patel in 2019, suggested there was a need to tackle the ideology underpinning terrorism rather than violent acts themselves.
The assessment found Prevent was ‘out of kilter with the rest of the counter-terrorism system, and the UK terrorism threat picture’ and ‘must return to its overarching objective: to stop individuals from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism’.
Last year Ms Patel hinted at reforms amid a litany of concerns have been raised about how the deradicalisation programme was working after it emerged several terror attacks were carried out by extremists who had been referred to Prevent.
They include: homegrown terrorist Ali Harbi Ali who murdered veteran MP Sir David Amess in 2021, Reading terror attacker Khairi Saadallah who murdered three men in a park and Sudesh Amman, responsible for stabbings in Streatham, south London, both in 2020, and the 2017 Parsons Green Tube train attacker Iraqi asylum seeker Ahmed Hassan.
It said: ‘Challenging extremist ideology should not be limited to proscribed organisations but should also cover domestic extremists operating below the terrorism threshold who can create an environment conducive to terrorism.’
The study added: ‘Prevent takes an expansive approach to the extreme right-wing, capturing a variety of influences that, at times, has been so broad it has included mildly controversial or provocative forms of mainstream, right-wing leaning commentary that have no meaningful connection to terrorism or radicalisation.
‘However, with Islamism, Prevent tends to take a much narrower approach centred around proscribed organisations, ignoring the contribution of non-violent Islamist narratives and networks to terrorism.
‘Prevent must ensure a consistent and evidence-based approach to setting its threshold and criteria, and ensure it does not overlook key non-violent radicalising influences.’
Mr Shawcross raised ‘particular concern’ about civil society organisations (CSOs) funded by the programme which have ‘promoted extremist narratives, including statements that appear sympathetic to the Taliban’, adding: ‘As a core principle, the Government must cease to engage with or fund those aligned with extremism.’
In the 188-page report, he also told how he was ‘disturbed by the prevalence of antisemitism’ in the so-called ‘Channel’ cases he observed – referring to people in the programme who are considered most at risk of becoming radicalised and turning to terrorism – and called for Prevent to ‘better understand and tackle antisemitism’.
The long-awaited report on the Prevent programme by former Charity Commission chair William Shawcross was released today
Reading attacker Khairi Saadallah, 27, (left) was assessed by Prevent officials but found to have ‘no fixed ideology’, according to reports. Sudesh Amman, who stabbed two people in Streatham, south London, last February. However, a panel decided his case did not require intervention
Usman Khan, 28, (left) who stabbed two young graduates to death after a prisoner rehabilitation event on London Bridge, had come into contact with Prevent officers who had ‘no specific training’ in handling terrorists, an inquest heard. Parsons Green bomber Ahmed Hassan was also referred to the anti-terror scheme 20 months before he planted a device on the Tube that injured 50 people during rush hour in 2017
Mr Shawcross also found that too many resources were being focused on right-wing terrorism rather its Islamist equivalent, which has been responsible for far more deadly attacks.
While Mr Shawcross praised the work of Prevent in stopping radicalisation, his report said: ‘All too often those who commit terrorist acts in this country have been previously referred to Prevent.
The long-awaited report on the Prevent programme by former Charity Commission chair William Shawcross said officials had a ‘double standard when dealing with the Extreme Right-Wing and Islamism’
‘Prevent apparently failed to understand the danger in these cases and this review demonstrates how such failures might be avoided in the future.’
His recommendations include a closer relationship between MI5 and Prevent bosses to allow better consideration of the wider terrorism threat by those who run the scheme.
The Government has accepted all 34 recommendations made in the 188-page report.
The Home Office said it would ‘overhaul’ Prevent in the fight against radicalisation and that the Home Secretary had ‘committed to delivering wholesale and rapid change’ across the programme.
Suella Braverman said she ‘wholeheartedly’ accepted all 34 of the review’s reccomendations.
In a statement after the review was published, she said: ‘Prevent will now ensure it focuses on the key threat of Islamist terrorism.
‘As part of this more proportionate approach, we will also remain vigilant on emerging threats, including on the extreme right.
‘This independent review has identified areas where real reform is required. This includes a need for Prevent to better understand Islamist ideology, which underpins the predominant terrorist threat facing the UK.
‘I wholeheartedly accept all 34 recommendations and am committed to quickly delivering wholesale change to ensure we are taking every possible step to protect our country from the threat posed by terrorism.’