Eroding Trust: The UK’s Prevent Counter-Extremism Strategy in Health and Education is the most comprehensive assessment to date of the workings of the Prevent strategy
The Prevent counter-terrorism strategy is being so abused that a school in Lancashire tried to dismiss a dinner lady by claiming she supported Daesh. This is according to a new report by the Open Society Justice Initiative released in October.
The study titled “Eroding Trust: The UK’s Prevent Counter-Extremism Strategy in Health and Education” studied 17 cases in which individuals had apparently fallen foul of the Prevent Duty which operates in schools, universities, hospitals and other public services in the form of the Channel programme. Channel allows these institutions to flag any suspicious individual to a safeguarding officer who will usually get the police involved.
In the case of the school dinner lady, it was only after she made a complaint about other kitchen staff that they claimed she supported Daesh. Because of the nature of this claim, the head teacher was able to circumvent normal disciplinary procedures, through which the employee would have had the chance to give her version of events, and used Prevent to dismiss the woman more easily from her job.
A governor at the school told the Justice Initiative that the appeals panel “was concerned that [the dinner lady] had been set up to be sacked from her job”. He said: “The reality was that the school had used Prevent as a means of getting rid of her with immediate effect and [tried to] effectively bypass any formal disciplinary process.” The dinner lady was eventually reinstated, but decided not to return to work after her experience.
In a similar case study, a Nurse from Birmingham was interrogated by a safeguarding officer due to allegations made about her by colleagues. The allegations happened after the 27 year old became more religious and started wearing a headscarf. During the interrogation, a police officer was present, and the nurse was asked probing questions about her religious practices and beliefs. Even though the police officer assured her in the meeting that she was not under any suspicion, counter-terrorism officers showed up at her house a few weeks later as a matter of procedure. Due to the distress caused by the encounter, the nurse eventually left her job at the hospital.
Police officers also showed up at the house of Taufiq, a 17 year old from Birmingham, after his college referred him to Channel. The list of concerns brought forward by the college included a series of seemingly random and unrelated incidents. They included the fact that Taufiq had decided to wear ethnic Arab clothing to college and didn’t have many friends. A family friend and lawyer who was called in to help explained to the police that Taufiq was new to the college. Even though the officers decided there was no cause for suspicion that day, they returned a couple of months later, convinced that Taufiq had gone to Syria. In fact, he had gone to the Calais refugee camp to volunteer, and had already returned.
The family lawyer told the Justice Initiative: “There was no other reason for subjecting Taufiq to this other than the fact that he was a Muslim. If he was dressed in black and wearing eyeliner, they wouldn’t have gone after him.” Referring to his choice to dress differently he added, “Muslim kids are not afforded the same opportunity of rebelling as white kids are.”
Another teenager from the West Midlands, 15 year old Jacob, who is the son of French Muslim converts who had recently moved to the country, was described by a teacher as “naughty but fine”. He decided to draw a map in class one day, to which he added pictures of guns and swastikas. This picture raised alarm bells and both the boy and his father were questioned by a police officer at the school. The officer asked probing questions to Jacob’s father, asking him specific questions about his religious beliefs. She concluded that the incident was not a cause for concern, but the whole ordeal created a hostile attitude in Jacob’s father towards the school and Jacob started speaking of how much he hated living in the UK.
Jabob’s teacher told the Justice Initiative: “Schools are more than capable of safeguarding without Prevent. Schools should talk to the child before ringing the police or social services. Prevent safeguarding involves police at an earlier stage. Students in my school come to school high, with weapons, and the police are not called. It is very heavy handed to involve the police for Prevent-related matters. Prevent makes Muslims feel like they are hated….There is no reason why this wouldn’t drive someone further into radicalisation.”
Other case studies cited in the report include the cancelling of Islamophobia conferences at universities due to the fear that extremist views will be expressed by either the panel or the audience and the case of a 9-year old school boy, whose alleged joke about bombs reached all the way up to the borough council and left his parents extremely distressed about the prospect of their child having a tainted record for the rest of his school life.
The Justice Initiative is calling on the Government to commission a public inquiry into the Prevent programme, publish whatever scientific data it possesses relating to extremism risk assessments, halt the targeting of non-violent extremism, and place the health and education systems outside its remit. It is also calling on the Children’s Commissioners for England, Wales and Scotland to assess the impact of Prevent on children.
Among the people interviewed as part of the study was Sir David Omand, who was the UK’s security and intelligence co-ordinator when the Prevent programme was launched. He said he would not have placed it on a statutory footing: “The key issue is, do most people in the community accept [Prevent] as protective of their rights? If the community sees it as a problem, then you have a problem.”