Securitising Communities and Individuals
2.1. The security state and the pre-criminal space
The internal Home Office review of the Prevent Strategy in 2011 set out the importance of a clear distinction between programmes to address community cohesion and those dealing with security risks. This intention was never fulfilled. A variety of government departments, including the Departments for Education, Health, Justice and, Communities and Local Government ran programmes addressed to cohesion and integration, as did the Home Office, most especially with its Building a Stronger Britain Together Programme and its Counter Extremism Commission. The different agendas of security and community cohesion were in tension with each other, with the security agenda undermining the latter.108
The special focus of the Home Office has been with the security aspects of Prevent that were flagged in 2011, but not fully implemented until 2015 with the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act.109 This expressed the intention to address supposed precursor ideologies that may lead on to support for violent extremism. The claim was that they served as a gateway or
conveyor belt to violent extremism. A new ‘safeguarding duty’ was placed upon providers of public services – for example, child-care, schooling, further and higher education, children’s and youth services, health services and prisons and offender services.
There is no proper evidence for the claim about the dangers of radicalisation, nor for the indicators that would be used in assessing behaviours and attitudes.110 Violent extremism is an offence defined in counter-terror legislation. Non-violent extremism resists definition without intruding on freedom of expression, as we have seen. The government requires training for the many practitioners and employees that are enrolled in monitoring individuals and their supposed vulnerability to radicalisation, training supplied by multiple providers.111
Nor, as we have seen, does the public have a clear understanding of what is meant by ‘extremism’. They could agree that it sounds like a bad thing, but what it is exactly remains obscure and open to interpretation. This is a lack of clarity that makes it difficult to provide clear training guidelines and increases the likelihood of a risk-averse culture of reporting by those charged with the Prevent duty. It is this that explains the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of recommendations to Channel, with the vast majority of cases coming to be ‘false positives’ as we set out in the preface to this report. Weak criteria are applied in the early stages of Prevent interventions and, as cases move through the Prevent process and involve more focussed criteria, they usually come to be dismissed. It is this that produces serious harms to those caught up in the process, and results in the widespread capture and retention of data of non-criminals on criminal databases.
A Prevent industry
The sectors to which the duty is applied are not straightforward and further muddy the picture. The prison and offender service, for example, is not part of a pre-criminal space. Here the authorities have all the necessary powers to act.
Yet, as the Manchester Arena Inquiry demonstrates (see Box 11), they have failed to provide efficient monitoring within their lawful powers.112 This is not a consequence of deficiencies in Prevent, but of failures in policing associated with the Pursue strand of the wider counter-terrorism strategy.
Box 11: The Manchester Arena Bombing and Prevent
There has been much media coverage of the alleged failures of Didsbury Mosque to report Salman Abedi under Prevent.113 However, evidence provided to the Manchester Arena Inquiry by Detective Chief Inspector Dominic Scully involved in Counter Terrorism Policing in Greater Manchester indicated something different.114 According to his evidence, Abedi was known to Manchester Counter-Terrorism Police and other security services as a potential ‘subject of interest’
with known connections with other subjects of interest under the Pursue strand of CONTEST. He was downgraded as a subject of interest in July 2014, a point at which he might have been referred to Prevent by the Manchester Counter Terrorism Police. They did not do so. MI5 also passed on intelligence about Abedi to the police in the months before the bombing, yet it was not acted upon. Had he been referred to Prevent, he would not have been identified as a direct threat and would not have been under the scrutiny his case warranted. The scrutiny and associated resources were available under Pursue, where all such failures would seem properly to fall.
These failures are a consequence of the fragmentation and outsourcing of the criminal justice system. Instead, newspaper reports have mobilised perceived failures of policing and security services dealing with ex-offenders, in order to allow neo-conservative think tanks to argue for the extension of surveillance and control over individuals who have committed no offence at all, and where there can be no expectation that they will.115
It is ironic that these bodies – which are generally in favour of the ‘small state’ – should support the domestic expansion of
the state in its security aspects, including the creation of an extensive local bureaucracy under centralised control.
The orientation of the pro-Prevent lobby is evident in the proliferation of consultancy opportunities.116 But this is a form of privatisation of government functions that has failed to produce effective ‘offender’ services, at the same time as it builds private interests into public policy as well as its evaluation and delivery. It has, in fact, been described, even by advocates of Prevent at RUSI, as a ‘flourishing industry’.117
His religious beliefs were criminalised at school
Ilyas is a 15-year-old secondary school boy preparing for his GCSEs. Ilyas is known by his teachers as being someone who is quite shy. Prior to the pandemic, the school had always operated single-gender PE sessions, which changed once the children returned to school in 2021.
Ilyas challenged this sudden change, and he told the teacher that he did not want to participate in mixed PE sessions. The teacher asked him why, and he said that his religion prohibited unnecessary free mingling of genders.
The teacher asked him to show where in Islam it stated this. So, Ilyas googled it and showed the teacher a reference to free mingling of genders from the first link that he found to support this.
In a separate incident, Ilyas had told another teacher that he would be unable to stay behind on a Friday as he wanted to observe the ‘special prayers’.
The school subsequently contacted Ilyas’s mother to arrange a meeting with the school in the presence of a Prevent officer. Ilyas’s mother was shocked that these incidents could be taken together to suggest that her son was an extremist or potential future terrorist.
She asked in particular why his requests had not been discussed with her first, prior to the school contacting Prevent. Ilyas’s mother said the following:
“How the school made the link between Prevent/terrorism risk to my son is based on his religious belief, and it really demonstrates to me that there has been clear discrimination against my son based on religious grounds.”
“It is bad enough that we see links to religious conservatism and terrorism in the media but to think that the schools also believe this is disappointing. They have known my son since Year 7, so it shocks me even more that they could view him in this way.”
The local Prevent bureaucracy is truly extensive. Prevent Panels were established in all local authority areas in England and are multi-agency bodies. They involve local designated officials (the ‘officers’ of the new Prevent bureaucracy), social workers, and counter-terrorism police. Each area has a local area Prevent coordinator overseen by regional Prevent coordinators responsible for each sector and reporting to the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism in the Home Office, recently re-named as the Department for Homeland Security.118
All those defined as having a safeguarding function – from safeguarding officers through to individual teachers, academics, and staff working in canteens and sports facilities, etc. – are required to have training in how to identify the signs of ‘vulnerability’ that might provide cause for concern and trigger the process of referral.
We will discuss the nature of this training and the identification of risk factors in the next chapter. What needs to be stressed, once again, is that none of the apparently troubling signs are offences under criminal law and yet they trigger the involvement of the police and security services, as well as the creation of a record that can be shared across different agencies. We will deal with the data protection aspects of Prevent in a later chapter.
The designated signs of vulnerability are multiple and include things that an individual might say, and how they behave, as well as information about an individual’s changing circumstances.119 They include for example such mundane factors as adoption of a religious mode of dress, changes in friendship groups, becoming isolated, or experiencing difficulties at home.
Choosing the veil turned her psychiatric treatment into an interrogation
Maira is a 25-year-old who has been diagnosed with ‘emotionally unstable personality disorder’. At the start of her diagnosis, Maira had a good relationship with her psychiatrist. When Maira converted to Islam she discussed her religious beliefs with her psychiatrist.
The psychiatrist was concerned when Maira spoke about her belief in the ‘unseen’ and asked an NHS Imam (a Muslim religious leader) to speak to her about her beliefs. His assessment was that there was nothing worrying about what she had mentioned.
The psychiatrists questioned why she had started to wear the veil. Maira felt under pressure to try and provide an
explanation to the psychiatrist about her beliefs and the choice to wear a face veil and says that the psychiatrist responded to her answer with a “strange look”.
Following this, Maira was called in to speak to the head psychiatrist for what she believed would be a medication review.
However, the meeting was not a medication review. Instead it was a 45-minute interrogation featuring questions about Syria, whether Maira knew people who had been ‘radicalised’, whether she herself was ‘radicalised’ and what she felt ‘radicalisation’ was.
The head psychiatrist also asked who it was that was teaching Maira about the religion and wanted to know which books she was reading. Maira said she felt “under immense pressure to answer all the questions even though none of the questions were related to my illness”.
The latter two factors may indeed indicate that someone needs help and support from social services. After all, many of the organisations with a new safeguarding duty under Prevent have previously had duties with regard to looking out for signs of neglect, psychological disturbance and the like. What is new is to provide these under a safeguarding duty that extends beyond the immediate welfare of the individual to the welfare of the wider public and the government itself, as expressed in the ‘national security’ prerogative at the core of Prevent.
The requirement under the Prevent duty as it operates in the pre-criminal space is for practitioners to monitor pupils, students, patients, and clients for signs of ‘non-violent extremism’ and report them for assessment and possible ‘de-radicalisation’ in a year-long Channel programme of education. Participation in that programme is, however, voluntary, given that no criminal offence is involved (whilst it can be mandated for ex-offenders, or, at least, made a condition of release).
In the sectors to which it applies, then, Prevent involves the direct incorporation of Prevent practitioners – who exist in the unaccountable private sector – and public sector employees, who are supposed to be accountable to the public they serve, into the security functions of the state. The Home Office estimates over a million people had been trained up to 2019, with more since then.120 The exercise of the duty involves surveillance of pupils, students, and other users of services for indications of ‘extremism’. Any individual exhibiting troubling signs should be reported to a ‘safeguarding lead’ within the organisation who decides whether or not to report the individual to the local Prevent panel.
The initial process already marks the start of serious harms associated with interventions under Prevent. These are harms to individuals and their families or carers, as well as harms to an environment where trust is part of the effective delivery of the service with which an individual has come to notice. In place of this integral aspect of mutual trust, Prevent has introduced a widespread security ethos within childcare, education, youth services and in health provision, one which is targeted disproportionally toward Muslim children and young people, and those with vulnerabilities such as mental health.
In this context, it is significant that isolated boys with mental health issues, or ‘incel’ interests, are referred for treatment for their mental health issues, then investigated under Prevent.121 This is an indication of the way in which Prevent operates with British Muslim communities under suspicion in a way that is not extended to others.
The legal mandate to report anything ‘suspicious’ means that the practitioners who are closest to the individuals concerned are discouraged from using their own expertise to question the basis on which they are flagging their concern. Instead, the assessment is moved quickly away from those flagging their concern, into the hands of counter-terrorism officers to action, without direct experience of the individual or the context of the concern.
The preventive state
In this way, Prevent has been likened to ‘stop and search’ as a police practice.122 A standard defence of ‘stop and search’ is that it is an effective prophylactic and that it does identify some criminal offences. That is, that there are some ‘positives’ – found objects, such as a knife or drugs, related to the commission of a crime – among all those who are subject to such an intrusive intervention. In the case of Prevent, it is worth reminding ourselves that even the ‘positives’ are false, in the sense that the individuals concerned have not committed an offence, nor is there any evidence that they will in the future commit an offence.
Nonetheless, they can be recommended for a Channel intervention on the basis of a suspicion that they may, at some point in the future, form an intention to do harm, and this is recorded as a ‘success’. To be clear, when critics of Prevent refer to ‘false positives’ (cases which are flagged for concern as a referral to a local Prevent Panel, but which do not proceed to a Channel recommendation), they are only representing part of the problem.
The category does not include those where an intervention under Prevent does not reach a local Prevent Panel (this information not made available so the scale of the intrusion can not be made public), but where significant harms nonetheless arise.
at pre-referral stage. What is happening here is part of a wider process of the incorporation of (speculative) behavioural science into the criminal justice system. This is being done through what has been called, more generally, ‘preventive’ policing.123 This involves the dystopian fantasy that it might be possible to identify those with a propensity to criminal acts and to intervene before they happen. It takes the form of profiling, with the attendant concerns about discrimination integral to it. We document the discriminatory nature of Prevent throughout this report. One particular issue, we have suggested, is how the profiling is racialised, with those associated with right-wing extremism and who are self-radicalised online being identified as having mental health issues, while those identified with ‘Islamist extremism’ represented as ‘political’ and, therefore, ‘riskier’.
The difference between Prevent and other forms of preventive policing, however, is precisely that it takes place outside a direct police initiative, and police are brought into a process that is technically independent of them. Policing is subject to some legal oversight and requirements of formal monitoring and reporting, as well as opportunities to bring a complaint. For example, profiling for stop and search associated with preventing knife crime can be challenged within existing regulatory frameworks. However, this is not the case for Prevent.
Referred to Prevent for frustrated comment at school
Amir is an 11-year-old secondary school boy with special educational needs, who has suffered anxiety after witnessing domestic violence at a very young age.
Amir’s mother noticed that he was deeply unhappy at the secondary school. Being a teacher herself at another school, she tried hard but unsuccessfully to arrange for her son to move schools, because she did not believe that his current school ethos or environment was conducive to his wellbeing.
Another child alleged that during a fire drill, they had overheard Amir say that he wished the school would burn down. As a result of this allegation the child was referred to Prevent.
Although the Prevent officer who vetted the referral did not take it any further after speaking to Amir’s mother and realising the context, Amir’s mother was shocked at the
the school’s decision to make the referral in the first place, without even telling her.
She condemned the decision and filed a complaint. Amir’s mother felt strongly that the decision made to refer her son was done in a discriminatory manner and stated: “Being a brown, Muslim Asian boy does not make you a terrorist.”
The referral not only led to a breakdown in trust between Amir and the school, but it also resulted in Amir’s data being stored on police databases despite not being suspected or even accused of a crime.
Amir’s mother was able to successfully get the data deleted. However, it took a year between suspecting that his data had been stored on police databases to securing its removal.
When the police agreed to delete the data, she said: “I am so overjoyed, I could cry! A year and three months on, but I am still so, so pleased.”
Teachers are confused when they cannot use their own expertise
Jenny is a headteacher of a primary school associated with the referral of a nursery-aged child. When a complaint from the child’s mother came into the school, Jenny responded with the following statement.
She said that the Prevent duty does not require teachers to use their own judgement about the consequences of the referrals, nor does it allow them use their own professional judgement to investigate if a statement or comment of a child is true. Jenny also admits that Prevent in practice in this case, did not conform to how Prevent had been described, leaving her confused about how the referral was handled. Her statement follows:
A four-year-old’s imagination results in a referral
Zak is a four-year-old boy in early years education. In 2019, Zak was playing at the after-school club he attends and in referring to the video game Fortnite, he told one of the staff members that his father had “guns and bombs in his shed”.
The staff member did not say anything to the mother when she collected him that evening. Instead, she spoke to the designated safeguarding lead that same day, raising the concern under the Prevent duty. The designated safeguarding lead agreed that this should be escalated as a Prevent referral; however they could not make contact with the Prevent team.
Following Prevent procedure, the school then contacted 999 to report their concern, making clear that they wanted this to be raised as a Prevent concern.
This resulted in a police officer visiting the family home that same night at 10.30pm to investigate the report.
In this case, the mother felt that if her child had not been Muslim then he would not have been viewed in this securitised manner. The mother said of the experience:
“It could have gone really wrong. I worry armed police could have come to my house and, you know, arrested us parents, with social services getting involved.”
“The office sent me all the information, including the transcript of that conversation. It’s quite clear he mentioned Fortnite,” said his mother. “He’s just a little boy with an imagination.”
“The teachers should know in this setting that [children] have imagination. They know exactly what kids are like, and what young boys are like. I do think that if it was a white boy, they wouldn’t have actually gone to that extreme of referring him to the Prevent scheme.”
Eight-year-old asked to recite the Qur’an by counter-terrorism police
Adam is an eight-year-old primary school boy who was interrogated by two counter terrorism officers and a social worker under the Prevent duty.
This interrogation occurred at school during lunchtime without the knowledge or consent of his parents. Adam says:
“All the other children were enjoying lunch and playing football and I was in the room being questioned all that time. They asked me what my father teaches me, and I said maths. They asked me to read the Qur’an so I did, and then they asked me if I knew the meaning of the verses.”
The local authority is a Prevent Priority Area (PPA) and has a large demographic of Muslims. The local authority claimed that they needed to assess if Adam was at risk of radicalisation and therefore an assessment under children’s services was being conducted.
Adam’s parents went through an extremely long complaints process (years) before receiving acknowledgement from the local authority that they had failed to promote Adam’s welfare by, at the very least, limiting the number of counter terrorism officers present.
The image below is an extract of the complaint from the parent (bold) and the response from the local authority (stating it was upheld):
Police officer suggests that Prevent exists outside of safeguarding
Police Sergeant Katherine is a member of the Prevent team and of a regional police force. In 2021, PS Katherine was tasked with responding to the complaint of a father about the questioning of his 12-year-old child by a Prevent officer from her team.
The child had been questioned in the absence of their parent or guardian with regards to an alleged hate crime. The father of the child put in a complaint to the police claiming that this breached PACE Code C (Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984): Revised Code of Practice for the detention, treatment and questioning of persons by Police Officers, which states:
PACE requires that the Prevent officer (who is a police officer) was required, at a minimum, to (a) caution him, in the presence of an appropriate adult; (b) inform him of his right to information about the offence; (c) inform him of his right to legal advice; (d) ensure the presence of an
appropriate adult, most obviously one of his parents; and (e) seek confirmation from an officer of superintendent rank or above that the interview would not significantly harm his physical or mental state.
PS Katherine responded to the complaint after speaking to the officer about whom the complaint was made and her own supervisor who is also the Regional Inspector for Counter Terrorism Policing. Katherine’s response to the alleged breach of PACE conduct was that: “This was not an ‘interview’ for a criminal offence and is therefore not governed by PACE.”
The father who made the complaint was extremely confused by the response; a Prevent officer is a police officer and yet under Prevent he was able to conduct himself outside of the normal conduct expected of a police officer.
This means that Prevent officers may question minors without the safeguards and protections provided to children connected to actual crimes.
Prevent, then, is a centrally coordinated system which lies outside explicit legal safeguards. It is also outside mechanisms of local review and accountability in local government, notwithstanding that it has serious implications for community relationships, including between users and providers of local services.
Our conclusion is: Prevent targets actions and behaviours which are not in themselves illegal and for which there is no evidence that they have any relation to future terrorist offences. It has no justification in the light of national security requirements, which can all be satisfied through other measures within the counter-terrorism strategy and the UK’s extensive legislative toolkit.
Securitising Communities and Individuals
2.2. Profiling populations, identifying ‘risks’
As we have seen, the Prevent monitoring process seeks to identify signs of ‘radicalisation’, defined as “the process by which a person comes to support terrorism and extremist ideologies associated with terrorist groups”.124
Retrospectively, the path that led to any violent act may appear to be clear in the individual case (it certainly becomes a matter for media concern and accusations of failure); prospectively, it is anything but clear, especially when what is identified as a possible factor is being assessed across the population.
If, as we have suggested, Prevent is a form of ‘stop and search’, a problem is how to manage the volume of possible interventions. This can only be resolved by ‘profiling’, which provides both the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of the necessarily discriminatory character of Prevent .
On the one hand, profiling is something that is built into Prevent ‘institutionally’ by virtue of the sectors with a responsibility for monitoring the users of a service. For example, all children and young people (up to school leaving age and all university and college students) are among the targeted population for a Prevent risk assessment, by virtue of the Prevent duty applying in childcare and education settings.125 Other individuals are accessed as a consequence of their use of other services, such as health services.
Profiling is also provided by the special attention given to Prevent Priority Areas (PPAs). We received information from an FoI request to the Home Office, just before this report was being finalised, identifying 44 PPAs (see Box 12)126. The distribution of the Muslim population of England and Wales across these PPAs is a clear indication of the specific focus of Prevent’s gaze. Using data on population distributions from the 2011 census, we estimate that around 73% of Muslims in England and Wales live within a PPA (compared to 31.5% of the population as a whole).
Box 12: Prevent Priority Areas
Taken together with the sectors subject to scrutiny, it means that the risk factors associated with radicalisation are likely to be more directly considered in relation to Muslim and ethnic minority children and young people. This is why we regard the data on Prevent referrals not as indicators of real risks, but as artifacts of the discriminatory nature of scrutiny.
This creates a practical dilemma with regard to the scope and focus of Prevent. If one of the risk factors is ‘social isolation’, then being outside education, or training, where the duty of surveillance exists, is a problem. On the one hand, the scope of the Prevent
duty could be extended to include religious organisations, including their outreach activities. Here the fact that someone dropped away from contact could trigger a report. Though here we would identify the contradictory logic of Prevent. The clear implication is that being part of a religious community, being in school, or being in higher education is a mitigation of ‘vulnerability’, yet it is precisely these spaces which are defined, in principle, as locations in which ‘radicalisation’ might take place. Given all of its contradictions, it begins to look as if Prevent is based on nothing more than a generalised and inchoate anxiety .
Prevent requests meetings when far-right is greater concern in area
Islamic Centre A is a centre offering congregational prayers and classes for the local Muslim community in the heart of a well-known Prevent Priority Area.
In late 2014, Islamic Centre A received a number of calls and emails from the Prevent coordinator asking to meet with them.
The Islamic centre received information that they were not the only centre/mosque that were being pressured into meeting with Prevent.
Given the reputation of Prevent, the Islamic Centre A decided not to engage with the Prevent officers.
Below is an example of the emails sent to Islamic Centre A, which admit that there is a particular focus on the Islamic centre even though the far-right and nonviolent extremism are the major concerns in the area:
Mosques were indicated in the Prevent Strategy 2011 as a potential ‘radicalising location’,127 and an extension of the duty has been called for in the light of the Manchester Arena bombing.128 The claim is that the mosque Salman Abedi attended should have reported him to Prevent, and that this could be addressed by bringing mosques under the Prevent Duty. We dealt with the inaccuracy of this specific claim in Box 11. From the point of view of the operation of the Prevent duty, however, such a requirement would need to be introduced for all religious organisations and their outreach activities. In other words, it would extend the security state fully into the surveillance of religion.
The same newspaper reports have suggested that the Shawcross Review will address the ‘inefficiencies’ associated with an actual and possible future proliferation of Prevent monitoring by recommending that it should narrow its focus to what it believes to be the real risk of terrorism, namely that associated with ‘Islamist extremism’ (although, as we have reiterated throughout this report, such risks are the focus of Pursue, while Prevent addresses ‘unreal’ risks manufactured within the Prevent process itself). We have already argued that Prevent is discriminatory and, of course, this would further reinforce that character.
The government reiterates that Prevent is not directed against Islam as a religion as such, but the consequence of extending the scope of Prevent to include religious organisations, at the same time as sharpening its focus on ‘Islamist extremism’, necessarily has that consequence. Thus, the meaning of ‘Islamism’ in this context can only involve the lawful expression of Islamic values in the public sphere.
But the operation of Prevent as an exercise in risk assessment also depends upon how the risks are identified and assessed within the profiled populations. Those deemed to be vulnerable to radicalisation in the pre-criminal space are being flagged for concern on the basis of a spurious ‘public safety’ campaign that utilises an assessment tool – the ERG22+ – which was developed for different purposes (see Box 12). It involves 22 indicators, some attitudinal, some associated with mental health and individual dispositions, and others with aspects of a social situation. They are organised into three groups of factors – Engagement (with 13 factors), Intent to Cause Harm (with 6 factors) and Capability to Cause Harm (with 3 factors).
Box 13: Channel Vulnerability Assessment Factors (ERG22+)
3. Identity, meaning and belonging
5. Excitement, comradeship or adventure
6. Dominance and control
7. Susceptibility to indoctrination
8. Political/moral motivation
9. Opportunistic involvement
10. Family and/or friends support extremist offending
11. Transitional periods
12. Group influence and control
13. Mental health
14. Over-identification with a group, cause or ideology
15. Them and Us thinking
16. Dehumanisation of the enemy
17. Attitudes that justify offending
18. Harmful means to an end
19. Harmful objective
20. Individual knowledge, skills and competencies
21. Access to networks, funding or equipment for terrorism
22. Criminal capability
Only gradually, has the underlying research for the assessment tool been made available for public scrutiny.129 The ERG22 +tool was initially developed for use within the criminal justice system, where in the UK, unlike other countries, there exists a significant number of ‘terrorist pathway offences’. These do not necessarily involve violence, but the prison service identifies those offenders as appropriate subjects of strategies for ‘de-radicalisation’ and ‘dis-engagement’ precisely because they have committed potential ‘precursor offences’ to violent ones.
The tool was based on casework notes and interviews with a small group of terrorism-related offenders, where the authors state that they had to “accommodate those convicted of extremist offenses that fell short of extremist violence, in line with UK legislation that set the bar lower than other jurisdictions”.130 The idea is that on the basis of these ‘symptomatic’ factors, individuals who may go on to commit violent offences can be identified and headed off that path. That they may be on that pathway can be inferred from the fact that they have committed non-violent offences. Yet, there are very few such offenders, and their ‘pathway offences’ are very different from the behaviours and ideas with which Prevent is concerned. Indeed, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism was scathing, writing that, “despite some increase in the knowledge base on the drivers and tipping point of violent extremism, the debate thereon is often largely dominated by private actors and consultants who are self-proclaimed experts or influenced by government policies that continue to pursue issues that have been scientifically disproven”.131 She went on to comment that instruments like ERG22+ pose “a number of ethical and functional challenges”.132
The ERG22+ is used as the basis of Prevent training for all those responsible for the implementation of the duty. The purpose of any training is to ensure that those who are involved should be able to come to similar judgements about the same arrays of ‘symptoms’.133 They also need to be able to do so across the very different sectors where Prevent assessments are made – schools, higher education, health, and so on. Yet, even the designers of the instrument admit that there is a problem of rater reliability.134
The test is not like a visual scan of a Covid 19 PCR test on a microscope specimen slide that can be conducted by technicians. There can be no solution in improved training in the use of the instrument, since its proper use involves what its advocates call ‘structured professional judgement’ by clinical psychologists and, from this perspective, most assessments in the pre-criminal space are delivered by non-professionals up until the Prevent referral stage, when it is then the business of counter-terrorism, individuals who are trained in and concerned with national security and not individual safeguarding.
At best, the training is designed as a ‘funnel’ through which individuals can be moved toward a point at which more ‘refined’ judgements can be made.
But it is precisely this that makes the process discriminatory, subjective and harmful to a wide range of children and young people. Indeed, it is akin to exhortations in public safety campaigns about counter-terrorism that, “the important thing for people to remember is that no report is a waste of our time; trust your instincts and tell us if something doesn’t feel right”.135
It is this orientation that guarantees that there will be a large volume of ‘false positives’. The assumption is that a more professional judgement will be made further down the line, and so any errors will be rectified. In the meantime, harms to children and young people are both proliferated and privatised (in the sense that the exercise of poor judgement is not available for public scrutiny, or, indeed, professional self-reflection).
A case of autism is confused with ‘extremism’
Caleb is a 32-year-old man who suffers from mental health issues. He was being assessed by a clinical psychologist for autism when the psychologist decided to refer him to Prevent.
When Caleb’s appointment time with the clinical psychologist who was due to assess him for autism came and went, Caleb became very distressed; he does not deal with change to routine or plans well.
The psychologist did not upon their arrival realise this was the case. Instead, the psychologist thought that Caleb’s comments were ‘strange’ and therefore they referred him to Prevent.
Caleb’s wife said she was “confused that the clinical psychologist, who was there to assess him for autism, did not recognise his behaviour and comments of symptoms of autism and his other conditions”.
The Prevent officer spoke to Caleb and deemed the case unfit for any further action.
The majority of terrorism offences are committed by individuals (mainly males) between the ages of 18 and 30, yet Prevent referrals involve a significant proportion of children, including those of primary school age.
Box 14: Terrorism Related Offences 2000-2021
Not all data covers the whole period. Between 2001 and 2012, 2297 arrests for terror-related offences are recorded, of these just 838 were charged with any offence, with only 290 being charged with a terror-related offence.136
Between 2001/02 and 2020/21, 51% of all terrorism-related arrests were of people under the age of 30. There were 204 people (4%) under the age of 18 at the time of their arrest. The proportions were broadly similar when looking at those who have been charged and those charged with a subsequent conviction, meaning that around 25 under 18s were convicted across the period.
For its part, the Prevent duty in the pre-criminal space is concerned primarily with ‘engagement’ and ‘intent’, and, in effect, engagement with ideological expressions at some distance from the endorsement of violence (if violence was endorsed that would be a criminal offence).
They include ‘normal’ ideas and behaviours, especially in the context of young people’s social development and coming to a sense of themselves. Young people will explore their religious identities, develop passionate views about justice, commit themselves to causes, and do so as a necessary and positive part of growing up.137
Using books and events to profile a teenager.
Joel is a 16-year-old secondary school boy who is described by his mother as quiet and not very interested in religion. Joel suffers from a mild form of dyslexia and is recognised by the school as a student with learning difficulties.
In 2015, Joel visited the school library and took out a number of books, one of which included a book on the topic of terrorism. The librarian stopped him from taking the books out and informed the headteacher. This resulted in a Prevent referral.
The Prevent officer visited Joel’s home and told his parent that he was concerned for Joel as he had attended an event by a registered faith-based Charity in England and Wales, which had been accused of having ‘extremist associations’ by the tabloid media and the Henry Jackson Society.
The attendance at this event together with the attempt to take out a book on terrorism from the school library formed the rationale of the Prevent officer for concern.
However, Joel’s mother says: “The school only reported the book that Joel tried to take out of the library, and I am shocked that the school would make a Prevent referral based on a book that they have on their own shelves.”
“I think that this would not have happened if anyone took the book out, but my son was singled out because of his race and religion.”
“Also, I am worried that the Prevent officer was already profiling my son because the school did not make any mention of the event that Joel attended. This makes me think that the Prevent officer must be keeping tabs on people going to various events even though they are legitimate events.”
These are what counter-extremism researchers categorise as risky ‘ideologies’. They can be added to (or removed) depending on government policy. Monica Lloyd, one of the authors of the original research on the ERG22+, has recently suggested that this is one of the virtues of the scheme; it can be applied to, “anyone whose offending is allied to an extremist ideology that justifies violence or illegal conduct in pursuit of its objectives. This includes far right, animal rights activists or others pursuing single issues”.138 It can be applied to any movement for change, just in so far as some group associated with the ideas advocates violence. This also includes where the violence is associated with challenging an oppressive regime, in just the way that the African National Congress was previously presented as a terrorist organisation and Nelson Mandela as a terrorist.
While concerns about ‘Islamist’ and far-right extremism are the most high profile, with an increasing proportion of referrals to Channel falling in the latter category, there has been a rise in what have been designated ‘mixed type’ ideologies, reflecting the government’s extension of Prevent to include other forms of ‘extremism’. Although leaks from the Shawcross Review indicate that there should be reduced emphasis on the far-right,139 there has been silence amongst the advocates of Prevent about more recent applications by
the government of the term ‘extremist’ against climate activists, Black Lives Matter protestors and the left.140 These are all defined as ‘radical’ groups, but they do not advocate violence, and support for them could not indicate a disposition toward violence. For example, a concern for animal rights and for climate change are widespread among young people, who may also be attracted to radical slogans – such as ‘meat is murder’, or ‘ecocide’ – yet violent action in the name of these causes is negligible. The problem with the focus on ‘ideologies’ is that it can be used to describe any opposition to the government’s policies as ‘extremist’ (as we have seen is the case for Muslim civil society groups like MEND or the MCB and is now being applied to other groups representing radical political change and extra-parliamentary activity).
There is potentially a pincer-movement whereby changes to legislation to create new criminal offences – such as the Police, Courts and Sentencing Bill – create opportunities to posit pre-crime concerns, which can then be made to come under the remit of Prevent. In this way, extra-Parliamentary protest is restricted. Parliament is lauded as the representative of the people, but the people’s self-representation is undermined. As Lord Hain (Box 15) – a British politician who served as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland – put it in a debate on the Bill in the House of Lords, this is both dangerous and historically ignorant.
Box 15: Speech by Lord Hain
“If enacted in past generations, it would have throttled the suffragettes and blocked their ability to rattle Parliament’s cage to secure votes for women. It would have prevented antifascists stopping Mosley’s bullying, anti-semitic blackshirts at Cable Street in the East End of London in 1936. It would have thwarted anti-apartheid protests that I led, in 1969 and 1970, which successfully stopped all white South African sports tours—a success which Nelson Mandela, then on Robben Island, hailed as a vital stepping stone in the ultimate defeat of apartheid. It would have prevented the Anti-Nazi League protests that stopped a resurgent and antisemitic, Islamophobic and fascist National Front in its tracks between 1977 and 1980, and in the early 1990s, similarly, the BNP.”141
Our conclusion is: Prevent relies on profiling through Prevent Priority Areas which target Muslim communities and poor communities disproportionately; it also takes the signs among young people of ordinary identity development and explorations in belonging as indications of ‘riskiness’, and it sanctions their activism.
Securitising Communities and Individuals
2.3 Prevent and Safeguarding
As we have seen, the Prevent Duty is promoted as a safeguarding duty to protect vulnerable children and adults from radicalisation and coming to commit violent acts in the name of an ideology. The use of the existing language of safeguarding familiar to different public authorities charged with protecting children and adults from abuse and neglect, has helped to legitimatise Prevent for many of those who are required by their employment to comply with it.142
Yet, Prevent was not initially intended as a safeguarding tool; it was only in the Prevent review of 2011 that it was formally placed into this context.
A year before, in January 2010, the government had begun to pilot Prevent within nine strategic health authority regions in England.143
The view was that individuals with mental health issues may be more easily radicalised, and, therefore, health professionals would be best positioned to respond. This also followed the ‘No Secrets’ review of adult safeguarding in 2008 which encouraged a multi-agency approach.144 In effect, in 2015, Prevent was incorporated into such an approach as a duty on different agencies with the consequence that, at the same time, multi-agency safeguarding was brought under a security framework.
However, the longstanding philosophical and ethical principles associated with regular safeguarding responsibilities are very different from those associated with the Prevent safeguarding duty (see Box 16).
The Children’s Acts of 1989 and 2004 stipulate legal requirements for safeguarding children. Where the safeguarding of adults is concerned, care and support needs are the criteria to be considered. These can arise from factors such as disability or illness etc. The welfare of the child or vulnerable adult is at the forefront of safeguarding.
Box 16: Principles of safeguarding:
1. Protecting children from maltreatment;
2. Preventing impairment of children’s health or development;
3. Ensuring that children grow up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care;
4.Taking action to enable all children to have the best outcomes.145
In contrast, a supposed vulnerability to ‘radicalisation’ is understood to follow from exposure to ideas and/or people subjectively deemed to be ‘radical’ or ‘extreme’. Even if the methodology behind the pre-crime and conveyor belt theory were assumed to be correct and based on reliable evidence, Prevent fails to follow the normal practices of safeguarding with regards to how an individual who is deemed ‘at risk’ is treated.
In this, Prevent alters the meaning of vulnerability under safeguarding, and, in doing so, alters the character and purpose of safeguarding itself.146 The risks to the child or vulnerable adult and the possibilities of them coming to harm are paramount in normal safeguarding practices. Under Prevent, however, the vulnerable individual is constructed as a possible risk to others.
As Nathan Hughes, Professor of Adolescent Health and Justice at the University of Sheffield, has argued in the context of ‘anti-social behaviour’, there is an elision between an individual deemed to be ‘at risk’ and an individual deemed as ‘risky’ to others.147
Under Prevent, it is the safety of the wider community that is the focus; the individual is viewed through the lens of national security, and on that basis, viewed as potentially ‘risky’.
To be sure, some of the criteria used in the ERG22+ assessment tool are indicators of vulnerability in a normal safeguarding sense – for example, difficult family circumstances, mental health problems, and the like.
Any intervention under the normal process would be toward providing support for the specific area of vulnerability – be it mental health issues, or neglect, or support for family carers – not an assessment for referral to the Channel programme. Unlike normal safeguarding practices, once a Prevent referral has been made, those previously involved with the individual – whether social worker, medical practitioner, or teacher – no longer have responsibility for providing care and support. In effect, this is taken over by the ‘multi-agency’ Prevent team, which operates outside the normal scrutiny and regulatory frameworks that apply to social work practice, medical practice and teaching standards, and in fact, to policing.
Since more than half of Prevent referrals are of children, it is often the case that social services become involved with the family once a Prevent referral has been made, regardless of whether the referral meets the threshold for Channel. Equally, the threat of intervention by social services may be used to coerce an individual and their carers to accepting entry onto the Channel programme, which is, as we have stated, voluntary in character.
Hospice worker refuses to undergo Prevent training
I refused to undergo Prevent training in my role in the health sector at a time of a rising political and social right-wing, while the racial and cultural tension at the time was very acute. When I refused to undergo the training, I was granted a meeting with senior management to explain why.
During that meeting there was this sense from management of being earnest and well-meaning, but what was hiding behind it was a really aggressive and forceful approach to dealing with (or ignoring) real issues that we are having in the UK.
There was also a lot of hidden nationalism. They kept saying that “over 80%” of the staff had done the training. I told them that there were black and brown staff members who may have done it, but they hadn’t objected because they didn’t feel safe. They said, “That’s shocking”.
All these statements of theirs were very difficult – I tried to come at it in an amicable way, and I was well-informed – and yet the reaction was very patronising.
And at the end, it was “okay, we’ve heard what you’ve had to say, now do the training”, which is what I had agreed to, in return for a meeting.
The major problem with Prevent in my experience in the health sector where I work with people in a therapeutic context, is that it is absolutely against patient confidentiality. There’s no doubt about it.
The other thing, which I also said in my meeting, is that we are talking about people at the end of their lives. I asked them: ‘Why are we reporting to Prevent, people who are dying? People who are having incredible physical disabilities, and why – how, could such people be referred to Prevent?’ It doesn’t logically make any sense.
Lastly, in a workplace that already is suffering from problems dealing with diversity, to the point that they had to do diversity training, how could people effectively put into practice what was in the content of the Prevent training?
If you look at the slides, their terms have no specific definitions. Anyone can define those terms and they can put them into practice any way they like.
12-year-old is referred while online ‘grooming’ suspect is ignored
Noah is a 12-year-old secondary school boy who has suffered from bullying at school and had few friends. In 2021, Noah used the term ‘jihadist’ in class and when a staff member challenged him on why he would use the term, he claimed not to know the meaning of it.
The next day a staff member questioned Noah during his lunchtime where he revealed that he had befriended an individual online. This individual, according to the teacher, was making statements the teacher identified as ‘hateful’ about other ethnic groups and using inappropriate and violent terminology.
The school then contacted Noah’s mother, without him knowing. They asked her to bring in his devices to be searched as they were concerned that he was being ‘groomed’ online.
Noah’s mother arrived at the school with the devices. At this point she noticed that her son’s lips were dry, and his skin was pale. Noah later told his mother that that day “was the worst day of my life”, and she relays how visibly shaken he was about the whole experience. Noah told his mother that he has “flashbacks of sitting in the chair being questioned”.
This incident led to the school making a Prevent referral, and Noah was visited at home by the Prevent officer who recommended to his mother that he go on to the Channel programme.
Noah’s mother says: “If they suspected him of being a victim of grooming, then why did they not try to investigate the person that he had been speaking to online?
“Why did they focus on my son and make out as if he is the one with a problem and in need of ‘deradicalising’?”
Whilst ostensibly voluntary, the Prevent process can involve duress, with different kinds of pressures placed on families and carers to accept enrolment in the Channel programme or in some cases to engage with Prevent officers in the first instance.
The paradox here is that it is the vulnerable individual who is targeted for Channel support, yet the matter of concern is the ideology or religious views of parents (this includes intervention when a parent committed for a terrorist offence is scheduled for release).
Father of six-year-old refuses Prevent, so teachers report son’s comment
Sami is a six-year-old primary school child. Sami’s father has never been charged or convicted of any crime and so when Prevent officers repeatedly asked to speak with him in 2019, he chose not to engage as he was not legally obliged to.
Moreover, he viewed the constant attempts to reach out to him as harassment.
In 2020, at least one Prevent officer visited Sami’s school unannounced to ask the school if they had any concerns about Sami. The visit was made to the school in an informal manner; there was no paper trail with regards to what information had been passed onto the school and could have potentially prejudiced the teachers against Sami.
Despite the head teacher confirming initially that there were no concerns about Sami, the visit provoked another member of staff to recall a conversation in which Sami had described how he believed that Allah is the Creator, and how the child had recited an Arabic prayer he had learnt from his family.
The next day, this information was forwarded to the Prevent officer who had left their contact details with the school following their visit the day before.
Sami’s mother says, “Whatever the Prevent officer told the school must have made the school view Sami with suspicion, otherwise why would the teacher all of a sudden remember the conversation that they had with Sami about Allah?”
“How can an innocent child’s conversation about what he believes be reported as a potential concern?”
“I believe that conversation placed a seed of suspicion in the head of my son’s teacher and it’s really unfair on him; he is only six years old and has done nothing wrong; none of us have.”
Sami’s parents were shocked when social services contacted them to tell them that a concern had been raised about Sami and that this concern had been initiated Prevent officers.
Sami’s parents filed a complaint against the school and the police and in doing so discovered that Sami’s information was being retained on the police database. Sami’s mother says: “If there was a genuine concern about Sami, then I would expect the professionals in his life would have flagged it with the appropriate services. Unless it was criminal, I would never expect the police to be involved.
“But in my son’s case there was no concern from his teacher; the concern was instigated by the Prevent officer, so it is very far away from any safeguarding procedure that makes sense.”
Despite concerns from unions and professional bodies associated with those public authorities that are required to implement Prevent, the positing of Prevent as safeguarding, as well as making the Prevent duty mandatory, has played a crucial role in both enabling and/or obligating – whatever the case may be – public sector professionals, from doctors to teachers, to social workers, to override their professional and moral judgements when carrying out their Prevent duty. In the case of social work, for example, it has been argued that it, “has silently slipped into anti-radicalisation work, which poses distinct ethical dilemmas, not least how far peoples’ differing ideological views and beliefs may serve to put someone at risk, indeed, in a family context, to cause ‘significant harm’ to children, and the threshold at which the state is mandated to intervene in private life in the UK”.148
For example, in a 2017 study, the respondents stated that situating Prevent as ‘safeguarding’ played a fundamental role in allaying anxieties about the duty and helped staff to see this as a continuation of their existing professional practices (see Box 17).149 Additionally, framing Prevent as a legal duty assuaged any professional and ethical misgivings and made it easier for practitioners to claim that they “are just doing our jobs”.
Box 17: Practitioner approaches to Prevent in schools
“You have to sell it as a safeguarding thing rather than a Prevent thing because I think teachers don’t like it, didn’t like it at first. They thought it was really reactive to things that were happening. But if you put it as part of, you know, if you package it up as part of safeguarding then it becomes more palatable.” (R55, senior leader, school, London)
“I think there have been some expressed opinions such as ‘Why should we be doing police work for them?’ That’s how they see it. That’s when I am trying to say, ‘it’s safeguarding’.
It’s what you are doing already. It’s about if you have got a concern about a young person.” (R12, DSL, college, W. Yorks)
“I don’t think there was a lot of room for us to counter those arguments. I think it was just ‘this is the information, this is what the law requires us to do, this is what we need to do to make sure we tick the safeguarding boxes for the college’.” (R66, support worker, college, London)
“They haven’t challenged me on the duty because this is a duty, okay? ‘This is a duty, and we have to implement it, and if we don’t implement it the college could be closed down. So, there’s your facts, okay?’” (R1, DSL, college, W. Yorks)
A question of ethics
In 2016, the main professional organisation for psychiatrists in the UK, the Royal College of Psychiatrists warned that counter-extremism duties could compel mental health specialists to work in “pressured, hermetic law-enforcement environments”, requiring them to work “beyond the profession’s remit”.150 Medical norms mean members are ethically obliged to ensure that any treatments they offer are evidence-based and suitably validated. Instead, “the poor performance of both adult and child and adolescent tools designed to detect a propensity for terrorism may mean that individuals are unjustifiably referred to the Channel Panel.”151
The college has elsewhere stated that “‘radicalisation’ is not a mental illness” and expressed concerns that the definition of ‘extremism’ has potentially “extended to encompass those who object to certain aspects of UK foreign policy”.152This is something reminiscent of authoritarian regimes, and ethical standards within the profession are clear that psychiatrists are not permitted to diagnose a person as mentally ill on the basis of their political, religious or ideological beliefs.
It is troubling that the pressure to conform with the Prevent duty also derives from conventional safeguarding concerns. We have seen that no additional funding is provided to local authorities to meet their Prevent duties, except for that sizable minority of local authorities designated as Prevent Priority Areas. Indeed, local authorities have since 2010 lost many of their functions – for example, over schooling with the rise of academy and free schools – and as a consequence of austerity policies have experienced serious financial cuts affecting children’s services and mental health services for young people.153 In normal circumstances, there is a threshold for intervention, but there is none for a Prevent referral.154 This creates a “moral hazard” for practitioners, where a Prevent referral may be a means of getting access to urgently needed support.155
Indeed, a significant proportion of ‘false positives’ for a Prevent referral are subsequently redirected to other services. In 2017-18, for example, 40% of those discussed at a Prevent panel were redirected, and 615 of those who had proceeded for consideration for Channel support were redirected to other services.156
In the latter context, however, it can mean that the support is provided within specialist units – known as Vulnerability Support Hubs – with a strong security focus that emphasises the potential risk to society from the individual.157
These hubs were piloted in three areas in 2015 and the scheme rolled out nationwide in 2017 without any public reports on the efficacy of the scheme.
The hubs operate under the direct authority of counter-terrorism police. They indicate a twin-track approach within Channel, where the guidelines distinguish between those who exhibit a ‘terrorism vulnerability’ and those who exhibit a ‘terrorism risk’.158
The latter are managed by the police outside Channel, with the Vulnerability Hubs one of the mechanisms for managing the supposed risk (or the individual can be escalated to the Pursue strand of CONTEST). Whereas the normal Channel process of education toward ‘disengagement’ is voluntary and scheduled to take place over one year, those who are designated a ‘terrorism risk’ can be managed without a clear route out for the individual, nor any protections against arbitrary decisions.
The hub evaluation documents here include three case studies in which individuals were deprived of their liberty under legal provisions intended for the treatment of medical disorders and provision of care, at least to some extent on the basis of the influence of counter-terrorism policing through Prevent.
Box 17: Practitioner approaches to Prevent in schools
Twelve-year-old threatened with criminal record for non-violent statement of belief
Ibrahim is a 12-year-old Muslim secondary school child who was referred to Prevent by his school. In 2021, a student made an allegation against him, claiming that he had condoned violence towards gay people.
Ibrahim has always maintained that he never made this comment and only referred to homosexuality being prohibited by his religion.
However, as a result of this allegation the school decided to make a referral to Prevent and included other concerns in the Prevent referral with regards to ‘inappropriate’ drawings and writings that had never been a cause for concern before, and that had already been addressed with Ibrahim’s parents.
Following the referral, a Prevent officer questioned Ibrahim at his home in a separate room and alone (away from his parents and the social worker).
The child described the questioning as intimidating and harassing. During the interview, the officer told the child that if they had indeed said the alleged statement, they could get a criminal record.
They also told him this would mean he’d struggle to go to university or get a good job.
They also made statements undermining the relevance of the Quran in modern society and also warned the child not to say everything that is on his mind.
Ibrahim’s father relays the experience: “The counter-terrorism officer questioned my child alone for nearly 30 minutes. He made clear we were not welcome in the room during the questioning and even though the counter terrorism officer turned up with a social worker, the social worker did not go into the room to ensure the welfare of my child.”
“My child has been very distressed by the whole experience. He claims he did not make a homophobic comment and he cannot believe that in a circumstance of her word [the counter-terrorism officer] against his, he was being treated like a criminal.”
“The truth is that my son would have had more rights if the officer had come in and said he was investigating a hate crime or a homophobic comment, compared to the lack of rights my son had under Prevent.”
“At least if he had been accused of a crime against homosexuals, he would have had the right to put his evidence forward or a proper investigation would have taken place.”
“I am shocked at how the tools are there to deal with this matter and always have been there before Prevent, yet they use Prevent and the baggage of terrorism to deal with this allegation.”
“Now my child has his name on criminal databases even though the police admit that he isn’t even suspected of a crime.”
Proposals by lobbyists close to the Shawcross Review (such as Hannah Stuart, the Director of the new Counter Extremism Group think tank) that Prevent should be extended to consider hate crimes such as supposed instances of antisemitism, racism, misogyny and homophobia are worrying. Such an extension would be both disproportionate and unnecessary.159 Indeed, there is already an increasing use of Prevent for dealing with all and any allegations of antisemitism, racism, misogyny and homophobia.
This is not only because Prevent has not been shown to be effective, but because there already exist the legislative and statutory means to deal with such matters – for example, the criminal law for hate speech, or various anti-bullying policies within education. Indeed, in the case of the latter, it is teaching staff that are most qualified to determine whether a comment is a legitimate and respectful expression of religious belief, say, versus a facetious and immature comment, or an attempt to bully, or an expression of ‘hate speech’.
Schools are already monitored by Ofsted for their anti-bullying policies and teachers can deal with issues in the context in which they arise, as indeed they do in many cases as we saw in our discussion of extremism. It is Muslim pupils who are likely to be drawn into the Prevent process for alleged ‘hate speech’, yet, as even Hannah Stuart allows, “it is possible that up to one-third of hate crime may feature an extremism element… [while] offences motivated by Islamic extremism, however, are less likely to fit within monitored hate crime strands”.160
As Rob Faure Walker, ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow at University College London, has argued, Prevent co-opts safeguarding, but, at the same time, undermines it, making “it less likely that children will discuss the concerns that would lead to government agencies like schools, social services and the police from becoming involved in their protection”.161 The conclusion is that our children would be more effectively ‘safeguarded’ by less and not more engagement with the counter-extremism agenda.
Where previously many of the comments made by children at school would be used as teachable moments to challenge and discuss such ideas with the children, they can also become the occasion to begin the Prevent process and involve the intervention of counter-terrorism police (and this may become a required response if the government takes this direction).
In this way, the individuals subject to action under Prevent are made vulnerable by the very agencies that are otherwise charged with supporting them.
At the same time, the professional standards of practitioners are put into question.
Their primary duty is to their clients, or those under their care, yet, with Prevent, they are made agents of the security arm of the state. Prevent – a policy which is scientifically ungrounded and stigmatising – has supplanted the ethical considerations central to the fields of health, education, and social work. This has undermined professions which are supposed to protect people from genuine harm and are at the heart of the public sector.
Our conclusion is: Prevent undermines the proper safeguarding obligations of social workers, teachers and health professionals. It does so by bringing children and young people under an extraordinarily extensive net of surveillance. This includes the creation in England of a national curriculum in ‘fundamental British values’ determined by national security interests.