Police Chiefs' Blog: CC Simon Cole - Independent review of Prevent is the time for hard fact, not twisted fiction
The recent announcement of an independent review of Prevent was a welcome one to me and, most likely, to other Prevent practitioners up and down the country.
We now have an opportunity to demonstrate what the programme can offer, and for unbiased experts to weigh that up against the criticisms, misleading rhetoric and false perceptions which have plagued the scheme.
An independent review should also have been welcome news for those who have spent so long criticising the programme, because they will now have an opportunity to air their concerns and suggest how changes to Prevent might improve the way we tackle radicalisation and extremism in the UK.
Now is the time for hard fact, not twisted fiction. It is the time for anyone with genuine concerns or policy ideas to stand up and be counted, or else never be able to fairly criticise Prevent again.
Critics have decried the lack of independent analysis and oversight, and now they have the chance to influence this critical government policy for the future.
Failure to do so would demonstrate that all they ever had was arguments based on inaccuracies or myth, and no real ideas about how to tackle radicalisation amongst the young and the vulnerable.
As the national police lead for Prevent, one thing I do know is that in an era where our security services and Counter Terrorism Police are running more than 700 live investigations, prevention has never been more important.
It will be interesting to see what the review discovers. I believe it will quickly find out that often it is the perception of Prevent, rather than its realities, that cause some of the doubts.
I have been encouraged to see both the West and the East Midlands host open sessions with anonymised Channel panels, meaning anyone can see the kind of challenges that are being faced on a daily basis across the UK.
This is the type of transparency which helps to build trust, which I believe must also be one of the primary goals of this review.
It will also surely reflect on the growth of far right referrals – which rose by 36% in the latest Home Office figures for 2017/18.
My colleague, and the head of Counter Terrorism Policing, Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, recently warned that the hostile political atmosphere and increasingly extreme online rhetoric around Brexit and nationalism is fuelling an increase in hate crime and far-right sentiment in this country – with concerns that is being exploited by far-right extremists.
Whatever the reasons, there is no doubt that we are seeing increasing number of Prevent referrals relating to young and vulnerable people showing signs of right wing extremism, and Prevent will continue to be a crucial tool in reversing this worrying trend.
Most of all, though, I think the review will find is that some of this is incredibly difficult. Where should the line be drawn between freedom of speech and becoming an offender? How intrusive is it to talk to a family about concerns raised around a child?
As I regularly say to our Prevent teams both locally and nationally, if it doesn’t feel difficult then you are probably in the wrong place.
I was lucky enough to attend the first ‘National Police Prevent Awards’ at New Scotland Yard recently.
What those recipients – officers and staff members from police forces around the country - demonstrated was their passion to try and make the world a better place, and to safeguard people who otherwise may do great damage to themselves and others.
They are literally transforming lives, and we are just one of the many statutory bodies who deliver this vital work on behalf of the British people.
As Dame Louise Casey said in her review of a couple of years ago, many of the Prevent workers and intervention providers are the unsung heroes and heroines of our national Counter Terrorism Network.
And so, we look forward to the emergence of the review and await with interest who is appointed to lead it forward.
Prevent is a crucial part of the battle against terrorists, and hopefully this review can be the next stage in our development of the work, our building of the evidence base, and us making Prevent more inclusive.
In the meantime we will continue to challenge the wilful detractors, debate with the genuinely concerned critics, answer the daily calls and, ultimately, save more lives.
The radicalisers won’t stop while the review takes place, and neither will we.