Don't ask terrorists about their mental health, check their motives, Prevent review to recommend

William Shawcross - Dominic Lipinski/PA
William Shawcross - Dominic Lipinski/PA

Counter-extremism efforts should focus on terrorists’ dangerous ideology rather than their mental health, a landmark review of the Government’s flagship Prevent programme has found.

The review, which will be published this week, is expected to advocate a “back to basics” approach for the UK’s anti-terror strategy.

It will say that those who have been radicalised should be assessed in terms of their ideology rather than their pastoral needs.

The Prevent programme will be criticised for straying from its “core mission” of stopping people from becoming terrorists by putting too much emphasis on treating them as victims.

Officials will be warned against assuming that extremists are vulnerable and focusing on whether they suffer from a mental health problem. Instead, they should examine their motivation and the threat they pose to society.

The review by William Shawcross, a former head of the Charity Commission, will also call for a renewed focus on Islamic radicalisation rather than drawing a false equality with far right terrorism.

Threat of Islamic terrorism

It will point out that the threat of Islamic terrorism makes up the bulk of MI5’s work and the majority of attacks, and that this should be the priority of country-extremism work.

It will also call for more focus on anti-Semitism, suggesting that this may have been overlooked previously.

The report has taken nearly two years since Mr Shawcross was appointed in January 2021 by Priti Patel, then the home secretary, with Home Office lawyers working to counter potential libel action by any referenced groups.

That led to concerns among supporters of Mr Shawcross that the review could be watered down for fear of provoking claims of Islamophobia and stirring community tensions. One said: “Home Office officials are terrified of looking like they are picking on Muslims.”

But government sources denied there had been any “redactions” or that the report was delayed by a row between Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, and Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, over removing names.

The Telegraph revealed last month that the review had also found that taxpayers’ money had been handed to groups promoting Islamist extremism.

Key figures in organisations funded by Prevent are alleged to have supported the Taliban, defended militant Islamist groups banned in the UK and hosted hate preachers, according to a leaked draft of the report.

As part of the Prevent de-radicalisation strategy introduced after the 9/11 attacks, groups and charities have been given taxpayers’ money to steer young Muslims away from terrorism.

But the review finds that a number of the organisations went on to promote extreme Islamist ideas.

Tacking the ideological causes

In the draft review, Mr Shawcross says he examined some of the hundreds of millions of pounds in funding distributed by Prevent, finding that the money “too often goes towards generic projects” and, in some cases even to organisations that had “promoted extremist narratives”.

The review will also change Prevent’s first objective to tackling the ideological causes of terrorism.

Currently the top objective is described as “responding  to the ideological challenge of terrorism and the threat we face from those who promote it”.

But there is concern that the wording is confusing and is giving rise to “muddled” interpretation.

When out of office in the summer, Mr Gove said it would be a “key test” for the Government to treat Mr Shawcross’s report seriously, not “kick it into the long grass” or dilute it so it did not “see the light of day”.

Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, is expected to accept all the report’s recommendations.