It strikes me as odd that the UK’s Prevent Strategy is regularly called secretive, lacking in transparency and likened to spying. This is because, for some time now, the Home Office has routinely published detailed statistical data relating to individuals referred to and supported by Prevent and Channel. Although open to interpretation and criticism, figures from 2015 onwards can be found in comprehensive statistical bulletins, with Channel data from 2012 onwards available on accompanying annexes. Surely such openness and transparency should be welcomed.
The latest batch of statistics for 2017/18, published last week, indicated a 20% increase in Prevent referrals from the previous year – 6,093 to 7,318, and a 19% increase of people who received support through Channel, the safeguarding process that supports the most vulnerable, high-risk Prevent referrals. No doubt this increase can partly be explained by the five terror attacks that the UK suffered in 2017, resulting in a heightened awareness of the terrorist threat.
But perhaps the standout headline is that there was a 36% spike in radical right-related referrals to Prevent. However, whilst this may seem like a surge, it is not a new phenomenon. Prevent practitioners will tell you that the radical right have long featured in our work and the 36% rise is a reflection of an upward trend that has seen far right referrals consistently increase in recent years. The number of individuals with a radical right ideology who received multi-agency Channel support has almost doubled since 2015/16. Meanwhile, referrals for concerns around Islamist extremism have been on a downward trend in the same period. For the first time, a similar number of individuals have received Channel support for concerns relating to Islamist and right wing extremism. Out of 394 individuals, 179 were linked to Islamist extremism, 174 to right wing extremism. At a local level I have witnessed first hand a fairly even split between the two ideologies at our monthly Channel safeguarding boards.
That said, approximately 80% of the 700 live terrorist investigations taking place right now relate to Islamist extremism. This begs the questions, are the radical right disproportionately represented in Channel cases? And what do the Prevent statistics tell us about the current state of the radical right in the UK?
I don’t believe that the radical right is disproportionately represented. The threat is in fact rising. Notably, up until 2018 it was the police who took primacy in monitoring far right extremism. Recently, the mantle has been picked up by MI5 as it has formally taken responsibility for leading investigations into extreme right wing terrorism. This is a measure of the seriousness of the threat – a threat that Prevent has been alive to for some time. Given that 4 out of 17 foiled terrorist plots since 2017 have related to radical right extremism, the national security implications are clear. Even as I write this, a group of extremists linked to National Action have just been convicted and jailed for membership of a terrorist group. They include a couple who named their baby boy “Adolf”, trained their toddler daughter to perform a Nazi salute and stated that “all Jews must be put to death.”
However, it is also fair to say that in my experience, a radical right referral to Prevent is generally more likely to be adopted by a Channel panel for support and intervention. This could be for a variety of reasons. For example, some people who refer to Prevent may be more adept at spotting the warning signs of radical right extremism than those of other ideologies. Indeed, this can be a natural extension of recognising and dealing with racism or hate incidents. I have also experienced people who were reluctant to report potential Islamist extremism for fear that they would be perceived as racist or culturally insensitive and, to be blunt, they felt more comfortable confronting or challenging the radical right.
The Prevent figures reveal that individuals discussed at a Channel panel with concerns related to radical right extremism were proportionately more likely to receive Channel support (41%) than those with concerns related to Islamist extremism (27%). Put simply, radical right referrals seem much more likely to consent to Channel support. My personal view is that radical right referrals to Prevent do not attract the same controversy as Islamist-inspired referrals. I cannot recall any scornful outcries by anti-Prevent activists after a radical right referral, and there does not appear to be a vocal lobby from non-Muslim communities against Prevent. Whilst constructive criticism should be welcomed, and opposition to Prevent is not uncommon, in my view there are some groups and organisations who maliciously or mischievously misrepresent the strategy in order to undermine it.
Regarding the current state of the radical right, it would appear that the Prevent referral figures are a good indicator of the serious and rising threat. But they also give cause for hope. They demonstrate that if the early warning signs and vulnerabilities of radical right extremism can be identified and acted upon, the threat can be eliminated. Of the 298 individuals who received Channel support in 2017/18, 84% left the process with no further terrorism-related concerns.
Channel works. The positive interventions that take place are tailored to an individual’s specific needs and vulnerabilities, from education support and mentoring to life skills and career opportunities. On a personal note, I have recently spoken to two individuals (separate Channel referrals but both had radical right ideologies) who told me that they believed that Channel saved their lives.
One of the standard, recurring criticisms that tends to follow the release of Home Office Prevent figures is that out of the many people who are referred to the programme, very few actually receive Channel support, suggesting that there was no risk in the first instance. Out of the 7,318 referrals in 2017/18, only 18% were deemed suitable for discussion at a Channel panel. This, however, rather misses the point. Firstly, a further 40% of those individuals were signposted to alternative services. Support of some kind was evidently required. Secondly, this ratio compares favourably with referrals to other forms of safeguarding. Out of the 7,318 Prevent referrals, 42% required no further action. In the same period, over 655,000 children were referred to social services for safeguarding concerns. Approximately 38% of these were assessed to be not in need, or no further action was required. Whilst we always strive for improvement in our referral figures, it is nevertheless worth reflecting that Prevent is in line with statistics for other forms of safeguarding.
As for predicting what future Prevent statistics will look like, well, recent months have already seen their fair share of radical right arrests, trials and prosecutions linked to hateful groups like National Action or the Sonnenkrieg Division. Police have recorded a 40% increase in religiously motivated hate crime. Politics is becoming more fractured. And, as radical right groups seek to exploit national issues such as child sexual exploitation, immigration and freedom of speech, it feels like we are living in an increasingly divided society.
As a local Prevent Coordinator I have witnessed first hand the swell of far right referrals to the point where, for the first time, I am now involved in more radical right Channel cases than any other ideology. So, if my current workload is anything to go by, I regrettably predict that the upward trend of radical right referrals to Prevent will continue to rise. Rest assured, Prevent will continue to meet that challenge.