UK Anti-Extremism Panels Too Soft, Should Involve MI5, Review Says: Report

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 19: Floral tributes to Sir David Amess MP outside Parliament on October 19, 2021 in London, England. Counter-terrorism officers are investigating the murder of Sir David Amess, the Conservative MP for Southend West, who was stabbed to death during his constituency surgery yesterday around midday. A …
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The UK’s anti-extremism Prevent panels are too soft because they can include teachers and faith leaders and should be cut down in size with priority given to police counter-terrorism and MI5 officers, a review is expected to conclude.

Prevent is the government’s strategy for safeguarding mostly young people from being drawn into terrorism, with local authority panels referring those vulnerable to becoming extremists. Those deemed most at risk are then placed onto the Channel programme. However, engagement is voluntary.

A review into Prevent being led by William Shawcross is expected to recommend that these local authority panels, which can sometimes swell to 20 in size, be limited to three to five, with MI5 and police counterterrorism be given more power to make recommendations than civilians from faith communities, schools, the NHS, and psychiatry, according to sources speaking to The Times.

The review, set to be published at the end of 2021, will heavily criticise this multiagency approach, with the civilian panel members considered too soft, while those in MI5 and counterterrorism — who the review will say should be given priority places on the panels — are “more hawkish”.

Speaking to the newspaper of record, the security source said: “Police and security-focused agencies are more likely to put people on to support programmes. The NHS, schools, local authorities and other agencies are often much weaker at intervention because they don’t want to antagonise faith groups.

“They’re more likely to see the best in people and be less cautious about the risks. That is why they’re going to recommend cutting the number of panel members because it takes in far too many people from far too many agencies, many of which are far too reticent at intervening, particularly with cases involving people from overseas.”

Home Office figures revealed that only half of the 1,424 people considered by these local authority panels were recommended to Channel in 2019-2020.

The leaked recommendations from the Times source comes after media claims that the suspect in the killing of Conservative MP Sir David Amess, named as Somali-heritage British citizen Ali Harbi Ali, 25, was believed to have been referred to Prevent at the age of 17 by his teacher, but was not put on the Channel programme, which includes mentoring and other anti-extremism programmes.

On the weekend, the Metropolitan Police Service’s Counter-Terrorism Command declared the fatal stabbing of Sir David a “terrorist incident”, suspecting “a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism”. Ali is being held under the Terrorism Act on suspicion of murder.

The BBC reported earlier this week that while on Prevent, he had not been a formal subject of interest to the domestic intelligence agency MI5. The news outlet also claimed that Ali “did not spend long in the Prevent programme”.

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