Suella Braverman is planning an urgent overhaul of the Government’s counter-extremism programme after an official inquiry concluded Prevent was treating potential terrorists as “victims”.
Government sources said the new Home Secretary had internally identified reform of Prevent as “a key priority for her within her first few months”.
The disclosure comes as The Telegraph reveals the damning findings of an official inquiry that has concluded that Prevent has strayed from its “core mission” of stopping people from becoming terrorists.
The excoriating assessment of Prevent, seen by The Telegraph, warns that the counter-terrorism programme originally set up by Tony Blair appeared to have been focusing on “protecting those referred into Prevent from harm” rather than “protecting the public” from potential terrorists.
It states that some taxpayer funding distributed by Prevent was at risk of being handed to groups that promote extremist views.
The document, written by William Shawcross, the former chairman of the Charity Commission, also warns that Prevent was disproportionately focusing on far-right extremism when “the facts clearly demonstrate that the most lethal threat in the last twenty years has come from Islamism”.
‘Prevent reform is a key priority’
It states: “Prevent must return to its overarching objective: to stop individuals from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism.
“Prevent is a crucial pillar of the UK’s counter-terrorism architecture, yet it has increasingly come to be seen as synonymous with safeguarding (i.e. an emphasis on protecting those referred into Prevent from harm and addressing their personal vulnerabilities).
“Prevent too often bestows a status of victimhood on all who come into contact with it, confusing practitioners and officials as to Prevent’s fundamental purpose.”
The findings of the report, which was originally commissioned three years ago by Priti Patel, have caused concern within government, where senior figures are now waiting for a final version from Mr Shawcross. The report is understood to have been subject to “tweaks” since the version seen by The Telegraph was submitted to Ms Patel in April, with a final version expected to be laid in Parliament in the coming weeks.
A Government source said: “The Home Secretary takes terrorism prevention incredibly seriously and has been clear Prevent reform is a key priority for her within her first few months in the role. The Prevent Review will form part of her thinking around how Britain can stay one of the safest countries in the world.”
Mr Shawcross, who chaired the Charity Commission between 2012 and 2018, insists in the report that Prevent has a “noble ambition” and said that the “caricature” of the scheme as a “thinly veiled means of persecuting British Muslims” was untrue and “an insult to all those in the Prevent network doing such diligent work to stop individuals from being radicalised into terrorism.”
He heard “time and again about how Prevent saves lives, helps tackle the causes of radicalisation, prevents individuals from potentially carrying out an act of terrorism, and assists others to disengage from extremism”.
But he warned that Islamist extremists were now “severely under-represented” in referrals to the programme, with a significant emphasis on Right-wing extremists instead.
Mr Shawcross states that officials involved in Prevent may be focusing on Right-wing extremism “above and beyond the actual threat it posed”, in order to “try and fend off accusations” that its earlier focus on Islamist extremists was “stigmatising minority communities”.
One piece of internal research within Prevent “listed a prominent Conservative politician and member of the Government as being among figures ‘associated with far-right sympathetic audiences, and Brexit’,” Mr Shawcross wrote.
The report stated that during the course of the three-year review, up to half a dozen terror attacks that “were Islamist in nature” had taken place in Britain.
It warned of a concerted campaign “driven by a number of Islamist groups to undermine and delegitimise Prevent”, including by “stirring up grievance and mistrust” towards the scheme among British Muslims.
Mr Shawcross examined some of the hundreds of millions of pounds in funding distributed by Prevent, finding that the money “too often goes towards generic projects” and, in some cases risked going to organisations that had “promoted extremist narratives”.
Currently, a legal “Prevent duty” requires public bodies to prevent people from being drawn into extremism, including by raising the alarm with appropriate authorities where necessary.
Mr Shawcross said the duty “works well” and was “especially effective in schools”. He recommended that the Government considers extending the duty to immigration officials and job centre staff.
He was also “greatly encouraged by the dedication and diligence” of Prevent’s Channel panels - the scheme's mechanism for “early intervention” in cases where an individual is deemed at risk of being drawn into terrorism.
But Mr Shawcross added: “Prevent’s first objective - to tackle the causes of radicalisation and respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism - is not being sufficiently met. Prevent is not doing enough to counter non-violent Islamist extremism.”
Mr Shawcross examined a sample of bodies that have received Prevent funding, warning that taxpayers’ money was at risk of going to organisations that had promoted “Islamist extremist sentiments”.
A Home Office spokesman said: “Prevent is a vital tool for safeguarding against radicalisation. We will not allow extremists or terrorists to spread hate or sow division, and Prevent provides crucial interventions that divert people away from dangerous ideologies.
“The Independent Review of Prevent will ensure we continue to improve our counter-terrorism response, and stop people from being drawn into terrorism. The report is currently being finalised.”
Mr Shawcross declined to comment.