Ministers are hoping to fast-track the review of the government’s Prevent and Channel deradicalisation programmes after the killing of MP Sir David Amess, which is expected to recommend that they become more security-oriented.
Whitehall sources said on Monday that they hoped the long-awaited review led by Sir William Shawcross would “be published as quickly as possible”. It is currently scheuled for publication next year.
Others close to the review process said that its overall aim would be to make Prevent and Channel “more organised and more security-focused” – a plan that critics warned could easily be counterproductive given that participation is voluntary.
One proposal under consideration in the review is to slim down local authority Channel panels – which can be as large as 20 – to three to five to allow the policing element to become more significant. The panels exist to provide tailored support to individuals deemed to be at risk of radicalisation, and who have been referred to the scheme by police or others. But those involved in the review believe they have become unfocused.
A spotlight has again fallen on the effectiveness of Prevent, the official programme to identify and help those deemed at risk of radicalisation, after it emerged that the suspect in the Amess case, Ali Harbi Ali, was alleged to have been known to Prevent observers.
It has been claimed that the 25-year-old now detained in police custody on suspicion of murder was referred to Prevent when he was in his late teens by an educational establishment. But the referral is believed to have been short-lived, and Ali was not subsequently placed on any watchlists by MI5, the domestic Security Service.
Prevent has been dogged by claims that it was a cover to spy on Muslim communities who were its main focus when it was created, although the programme also covers rightwing extremism and those with an uncertain or unclear ideology.
One senior source with knowledge of Prevent said the plans could be counterproductive: “People forget that Prevent is voluntary. How many people are going to go before a board dominated by police and security officials?
“Of course police should be involved. You need more than just police officers involved, but psychologists and health and other professionals. This could have unintended consequences.”
Counter-terror chiefs believe the Prevent and Channel schemes are a vital part of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy. Terror groups’ ability to recruit young people, be it in person or increasingly online, has remained potent.
Police and security services say their investigative activity has been running at an intense level for several years, with about 800 investigations currently live. Prevent, they believe, needs to be effective to first stop the number of terrorist recruits increasing, and then hopefully cause it to decrease.
The review of Prevent has been beset by delays, amid a row over the appointment of its first chair, Lord Carlile. Shawcross, a former chair of the Charity Commission, was appointed in January.