Prevent: UK anti-terror scheme 'not doing enough' to stop Islamist extremism, report finds

The Prevent scheme is designed to stop people turning to terrorism, ITV News' Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports

The UK's anti-terrorism programme is "not doing enough" to stop non-violent Islamic extremism, a report has found, and it is in need of "major reform", according to the home secretary.

The Prevent scheme is designed to stop people turning to terrorism, however a review of it was ordered after it emerged several terror attacks had been carried out by extremists who had been referred to the programme.

The review, led by former Charity Commission chairman William Shawcross, found that it “is not doing enough to counter non-violent Islamist extremism” and “has a double standard when dealing with the Extreme Right-Wing and Islamism”.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said the scheme had shown “cultural timidity”, suggesting officials had not made as many referrals as they should have for fears of being branded racist.

She said 80% of police counterterrorism investigations centre on Islamic extremism, but only "only 16% of Prevent referrals in 2021/22 were Islamist".

The review was led by former Charity Commission chairman William Shawcross. Credit: PA

Those figures, she said, show an "institutional hesitancy to tackle Islamism for fear of the charge of Islamophobia. These are false charges that spread fear and misinformation within communities".

Ms Braverman also suggested that Prevent had “defined the extreme right wing too broadly”.

She added: “The threat from the extreme right wing must not be minimised. It is serious and it is growing. It must be robustly addressed, but it is not the same either in nature or scale as the threat from Islamism.”

A review into the programme was called by her predecessor Priti Patel amid concerns it was failing to do its job.

Terrorists referred to the programme include: 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, both in 2020; and the 2017 Parsons Green Tube train attacker Iraqi asylum seeker Ahmed Hassan.

The report 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.”

It 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.”

The government has accepted all 34 recommendations made in the 188-page report.

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.

“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.

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Ms Braverman said she would implement all of the reports findings and update on her progress in a year.

She told Parliament: “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.

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.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper described the programme as “extremely important” but criticised the government and home secretary for "not updated their counter-extremism strategy since 2015".

She added Ms Braverman’s response to the review and its conclusions “feel very confused”.