In a rare insight into the workings of the Government’s often secretive anti-radicalisation Prevent scheme, details have been released of the work carried out in the last year to protect the ‘vulnerable’ teenager from being drawn into terrorism.
The boy, who has not been identified, is from a predominantly white area of Yorkshire but was influenced by the far-right views of his father, who had separated from his mother but was still a strong influence in his life.
Concerns were raised after he started making comments in school about Muslims “trying to take over the country” and “being vocal in his views around what Muslim people should or shouldn’t be allowed to wear”.
After being referred to the Channel scheme, a programme which supports hundreds of people a year who are at risk of being drawn into terrorism, the teenager was offered several interventions to offer him an alternative to his entrenched views.
He was later introduced to a Muslim imam, who took him to mosques in Yorkshire to meet other Muslims, before bringing him to a multi-faith project where he mixed with young people from a variety of backgrounds and eventually ended up as a volunteer.
Detective Superintendent Nik Adams, Regional Prevent Delivery Co-ordinator for the North East Counter Terrorism Unit, said: “It has had a fantastic impact on him in terms of his school reports, how he has settled, we’re not getting any more of those anti-Muslim comments, he is getting on better with teachers.”
The case is described as being “fairly typical” of the work of Prevent, a strategy that has come in for increased criticism in recent months, with the Home Affairs Select Committee describing it as “toxic” and discriminatory towards Muslims.
In April, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to freedom of assembly warned that the programme had created a “spectre of Big Brother” which made families worried about innocent remarks being misconstrued.
But counter-terror officials say the majority of referrals to Channel come from people close to the person concerned, who are worried about their wellbeing.
They have stressed the importance of reporting concerns as early as possible, so extremist views can be challenged before they become entrenched.
Describing the process where the West Yorkshire teenager was referred to Channel, Det Supt Adams said he had initially showed a “genuine vulnerability”.
He said: “He didn’t live with dad but used to visit dad, and you could see how that was affecting his behaviour at school.
“He was disengaged from certain females at school, he was being vocal in his views around what Muslim people should or shouldn’t be allowed to wear, whether or not Muslims should be allowed to go to his school.
“He was saying that Muslim women shouldn’t be allowed to wear the niqab and he had his head filled with nonsense that Muslims were trying to take over the country.”
Cases are adopted by the Channel scheme if a panel of officials from a range of agencies, including health, education and local authorities, decide that the person is vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism.
The boy was introduced to a white, male officer of a similar age to his father to act as a strong, white role model and build up a relationship with him before handing him over to a younger, Muslim officer.
Mr Adams said: “That officer was able to build up a relationship with that young man. This was totally deliberate and not without the challenges of how are you going to overcome some of those barriers.”
Fears of the growing threat posed by far-right extremists have emerged in recent months, exacerbated by the murder of West Yorkshire MP Jo Cox by Neo-Nazi Thomas Mair.
Last month, the Government announced that the Neo-Nazi National Action group would be the first extreme right-wing organisation to be banned as a terrorist organisation.