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Sharp increase in Prevent referals in Scotland

Scrap Prevent

104 people living in Scotland were reported in 2017/18 over concerns that they could be "at risk of being exploited by violent extremist narratives and drawn into terrorism", according to figures released by Police Scotland in December 2018.

They were reported under the controversial "Prevent" scheme. Prevent deals with views and conduct that are not criminal, but that are supposedly “extremist” and that the Government regards as being linked to terrorism. SACC believes that Prevent is discriminatory, Islamophobic, promotes a climate of suspicion and should be scrapped.

Of the 104 people reported to Police Scotland over Prevent concerns in 2018, 28 were under 15 years old and 34 were aged 15-20. 38 cases focused on 'international extremism' and 23 on supposed 'extreme right wing' views. The police data does not break the figures down by ethnicity or religion. However, the term 'international extremism' is likely to cover views considered by the government to be linked to terrorism related to the Middle East and North Africa and/or to what the Prevent strategy refers to as "Islamist terrorism." The latest (June 2018) version of the UK's "CONTEST" strategy for countering terrorism states: "Islamist terrorism is the foremost terrorist threat to the UK." Prevent is one four strands within CONTEST. The other strands are called Pursue, Protect and Prepare.

The most common single source of police referrals in Scotland was the education sector (40 referrals), followed by local authorities (17 referrals) and health (11 referrals).

Just 3 of the 104 cases referred to the police were escalated to trigger the Prevent Professional Concerns (PPC) process. This is the Scottish equivalent of the process called "Channel" in England and Wales. It involves a multi-agency case conference (which could involve, for example, teachers, social workers and health professionals) and  may recommend "support" for the person concerned. Any such activities require the consent of the individual or, in the the case of a child, of their parent or guardian. Police Scotland says:

"Support may include signposting individuals to other professionals and may also  include  an  opportunity  to  debate  challenging  issues  with  an  accredited  mentor who  can  challenge  and  suggest  credible  alternative  viewpoints.  Or,  as  is  often  the case, it may be about providing access to mainstream services which can then enable theindividual to make a more positive contribution to society."

The 2017/18 figures for police referrals represent a sharp increase over 2016/17, when a total of 59 individuals were referred to Police Scotland, 2 of them triggering the PPC process. 13 of the police referrals in 2017/17 originated from the education sector, 3 from the health sector and 5 from local authorities.

We suspect that the increase in referrals compared to the previous year reflects the roll-out of Prevent training rather than any increase in the number of people at risk of being drawn into terrorism.

We are deeply concerned that for 101 individuals referred to police (97% of all cases), onward referral to the PPC process turned out not to be warranted. 68 cases were flagged by police as "No Prevent issue to be addressed." This is very worrying. For the individuals concerned - especially children and their families - being reported to police over a supposed risk of being drawn into terrorism cannot have been other than traumatic. 66 cases were "referred to other services." There must be a better way for people to access the services they need than via a terrorism-related referral to police.

25 cases were flagged as "Prevent issue mitigated" and 7 as "Prevent issue not mitigated". This appears to mean that steps to mitigate the Prevent issue - or a decision that the issue could not be mitigated - were arrived at by the police alone, without the benefit of the multi-agency PPC process set up in response to the statutory requirements created by the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015. Prevent focusses on people who are not suspected of any crime. It is inappropriate for police to be intervening in their lives.

Police Scotland now publish data covering Prevent referrals from 2015/16. They had previously refused to provide any figures on Prevent referrals. Police Scotland's change of policy followed a successful appeal by The Ferret to the Scottish Information Commissioner 3 Nov 2016. The Ferret's initial request for the information was dated 11 October 2015. The information was released to the Ferret in January 2017 and covered the period up to 11 October 2015. Police Scotland subsequently began publishing annual statements on thier website, backdated to 2015/16.

Data on Prevent referrals in England and Wales is published by the Home Office. 7318 individuals were referred to Prevent in England and Wales in 2017/18. This amounts to 125 referrals per million people, compared to 19 referrals per million people in Scotland over the same period (based on population estimates for mid-2017 published by the UK's Office for National Statistics). The relatively low rate of referral in Scotland is good news, given the damage done by the Prevent programme. However, we fear that the referral rate in Scotland will continue to grow as Prevent training rolls out and Prevent becomes normalised and accepted. The referral rate is in any case by no means a measure of the impact of Prevent. Through training and via its influence in organisations that it funds, Prevent contributes to a climate of Islamophobia and suspicion and creates a system of informal police supervision of political activity in Muslim communities. In doing so it weakens the political capacity of the whole of society. Scottish society shown many symptoms of Prevent's influence.

The figures released by Police Scotland raise as many questions as they answer. SACC's advice to people targeted by Prevent and to people asked to implement it as part of their work is, as far as possible, to avoid co-operating with it.

More information

Police Scotland – media release of 2017/18 Prevent referral data (pdf document)

Police Scotland – Release of 2016/17 Prevent Referral Data (pdf document)

Home Office - Individuals referred to and supported through the PreventProgramme, April 2017 to March 2018 (pdf document)

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