The Home Office must take greater responsibility for how deradicalisation programmes are working with potential terrorists, a review will recommend.
The review found that Prevent, the government’s counterextremism strategy, was ineffective in some parts of the UK because certain local authorities were involving Muslim groups that actively opposed the programme in the process of deciding whether individuals need to be deradicalised.
In some instances in the southeast of England, councils have even appointed Prevent co-ordinators opposed to the strategy entirely, according to sources close to the review.
The review of Prevent, which has been led by William Shawcross, the former chairman of the Charity Commission, and is expected to be handed to Priti Patel next month, has been given fresh impetus after The Times revealed the man suspected of killing Sir David Amess last week was referred to the programme seven years ago.
It has been claimed that Ali Harbi Ali, 25, who is being questioned by police over the fatal stabbing of the Conservative MP, was elevated to Channel, a scheme that deals with individuals deemed most at risk of radicalisation.
However, both Home Office and counterterrorism sources have refused to confirm he was a Channel case.
In some parts of the country, such as Leicester, for example, the review found Prevent programmes were highly effective in diverting extremists away from a potential path to terrorism.
However, inconsistency in how Prevent works on the ground has led to a recommendation that the Home Office takes greater oversight of the programme.
Under the recommendation, the Home Office would appoint Prevent co-ordinators directly rather than leaving the decision to local authorities. They would then head up about a dozen regional units that would be set up in a reorganised Prevent.
The review is expected to suggest mirroring the 11 regional counterterrorism units (CTUs) that operate across the UK.
This would help to enforce higher standards across the country to make Prevent work more consistently.
Sources familiar with the review’s findings said Muslim Engagement and Development (Mend), a not-for-profit company that helps to empower and encourage British Muslims within local communities, is one of the groups that has been given a role on local Prevent steering committees despite its vocal opposition to the deradicalisation programme.
Mend rejected this assertion, saying: “Nowhere in the country is Mend involved in the Prevent programme or working with Prevent co-ordinators in any capacity. Mend — alongside a coalition of academics, special rapporteurs to the UN and civil society organisations including the NEU, Rights Watch UK and the Open Society Justice Initiative, — has maintained categorical opposition to the Prevent programme due to its Islamophobic underpinnings that has led to the discriminatory targeting and securitisation of the Muslim community as well as it being fundamentally ineffectual and counterproductive in practice.”
Fiyaz Mughal, founder of Faith Matters and Muslims Against Antisemitism who has worked on counterextremism programmes since the 7/7 London bombings, said the overhaul of Prevent was needed to stop divisive groups being allowed to participate in the process.
He said: “There is no point in bringing on deeply polarising groups who have no interest in seeing the positive in counterextremism programmes on to Prevent steering groups. This is totally counterproductive and needs to change.
“My experience of Prevent co-ordinators is that some are excellent and conduct their due diligence and are completely committed to this area of work.
“Others are not so focused on ensuring due diligence, do not believe fully in this area of work and are poor in their application of Prevent principles. So the work is patchy and we need a robust uniformity in the application and implementation of counterextremism measures.”
Other reforms set to be recommended include putting extremists on the Channel scheme on deradicalisation courses that last for three years instead of one. At present, the funding is only allocated for single-year programmes, which causes uncertainty over the future of the schemes.
Separately, a report by the Henry Jackson Society, a think tank, has warned of a “fundamental mismatch” between the threat posed by Islamic extremism and the number of referrals to Prevent.
Despite Islamic extremists making up three quarters of offenders in prison for terror-related offences and the vast majority of suspects on the MI5’s terror watchlist, they represent only 22 per cent of all Prevent referrals and 30 per cent of Channel cases.
In comparison, far-right extremists make up 24 per cent of Prevent referrals and 43 per cent of Channel cases, but are only one in five terror-related prisoners.
Dr Rakib Ehsan, the report’s author, said: “The Prevent scheme’s central aim is to reduce the UK’s overall terror threat and maximise public safety. At the moment, it is failing to deliver on this front.
“In a broader cultural sense, it is vital that the UK is not paralysed by political correctness and identity politics when it comes to holding hard-headed discussions on the prevailing terror threat of Islamist extremism.”