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Almost 4,000 people referred to UK deradicalisation scheme last year

5Sunday 20 March 2016

Almost 4,000 people were referred to the UK government’s flagship counter-terrorism scheme last year – nearly triple the figure in the previous year, and an average of 11 people a day.

The rise in referrals, which came amid concerns over Britons returning to the UK from fighting in Syria, followed moves by the government that placed prisons, NHS Trusts and schools under a new statutory duty to tackle extremist radicalisation.

Children aged nine and under were among the 3,955 people reported to the Channel programme in 2015, up from 1,681 in 2014, official figures show.

The figures, published by the National Police Chief Council under the Freedom of Information Act, are the first since local authorities, prisons, NHS Trusts and schools were made to prevent radicalisation taking place within their walls in June last year.

The big rise in referrals suggests that public bodies have become increasingly vigilant in alerting the authorities to individuals believed to be at risk of extremism, with the average of 11 referrals each day across the year.

Dr Erin Saltman, a senior counter-extremism researcher at the the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, described the figure as “highly significant”.

“It’s indicative of a couple of things. One is that there’s a huge amount of awareness around radicalisation that just didn’t exist before – it’s now a buzzword whereas five years ago it wouldn’t have been,” she said.

“The other is an increase in fear. We are seeing an increase in fearful rhetoric around radicalisation, particularly when we see foreign terrorist fighters and females in unprecedented numbers joining Isis.”

Last week, the Guardian revealed how staff at a nursery school in Luton threatened to refer a four-year-old boy to the deradicalisation programme after he drew pictures that they thought showed his father making a “cooker bomb”.

The child’s drawing actually depicted his father cutting a cucumber with a knife, his mother said, but staff misheard his explanation and thought it referred to a type of improvised explosive device.

People identified as at risk of being drawn into terrorism are assessed and about a fifth of these are required to attend deradicalisation sessions.

In the West Midlands, the only region for which detailed data was provided, 788 people were referred to Channel last year. Of these, 68 were children aged nine or under, 183 were 10-14 and 235 were aged 15-19.

Of the West Midlands referrals, 354 were made by a school or educational establishment, the figures show. There were 293 people identified as Muslim among the 788 individuals referred in the region.

A four-year-old child is the youngest person reported to Channel. However, police said this was a one-off when an entire family was referred for “operational reasons”.

Saltman, who runs a programme for young people countering violent extremism, said there was a lack of clarity and transparency for teachers on how to spot the signs of radicalisation.

“The real problem is that a lot of signifiers are things that would be considered normal teenage behaviour, like changes in dress, changes in ability to want to talk to teachers or parents,” she said.

“Teachers are fearful and want to safeguard students but they’re not being given very clear guidelines or training. What this will now do is shut down dialogue, rather than open up discourse and transparency within a classroom.”

In October last year, a 14-year-old boy from Blackburn who had been on the deradicalisation programme was jailed for life for plotting the Anzac day beheading of Australian police officers. Worried school staff had referred the boy, who cannot be named, to Channel in 2013 but caseworkers were forced to call in police when the boy paid only “lip service” to their efforts, the judge said in sentencing.

DCI Tony Mole, the detective who led the investigation, said it was not an indication of the ineffectiveness of the programme, which he said had a very high success rate, but admitted that in the teenager’s case deradicalisation attempts had failed to curb his extremism.

The move to strengthen Channel was at the heart of Theresa May’s Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015, unveiled in November 2014 and designed to combat the threat from Islamic State (Isis) fighters who, the home secretary said, have given “energy and a renewed sense of purpose to subversive Islamist organisations and radical leaders” in Britain.

Under the new counter-terrorism law, the seventh in Britain since 9/11, local councils are required to make checks on the use of their public buildings, internet filters, after-school clubs and tuition centres to support home education.

In prisons, governors are expected to consider cell-sharing risk assessments and initial reception and induction interviews.


Guidance published by the Home Office says schools are under a new duty to protect pupils by safeguarding them from the risk of being drawn into terrorism, which includes non-violent extremism.

Although there is no nationwide breakdown of the age of the 3,955 referrals, figures released in January showed 415 children aged 10 or under had been referred to the programme in England and Wales, while 1,424 secondary school-aged children, between 11 and 15, had also been referred.

There were more referrals between June and August than for the whole of 2012-13 – when the scheme was rolled out across England and Wales. The number is more than double the level of referrals recorded in the first three months of 2014-15.

Specific details of Channel projects – piloted in 2007 – are not made public, but they are aimed at all forms of terrorism, including far-right extremism. Government guidance states the programme is “about ensuring that vulnerable children and adults of any faith, ethnicity or background receive support before their vulnerabilities are exploited by those that would want them to embrace terrorism”.