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Opportunity was missed to ‘re-brand’ Prevent strategy, official says


Opportunity was missed to ‘re-brand’ Prevent strategy, official says


n opportunity to “re-brand” Prevent as a more effective and fair counter-terrorism scheme was missed “a number of years ago”, a senior City Hall official has said.

Despite significant improvements being made to its work, the anti-radicalisation scheme still struggles with a “perception issue” from the public, the official warned.

Prevent – a key element of the government’s wider counter-terrorism strategy – seeks to stop people from becoming involved in terrorist activity, and to challenge extremist ideologies.

But its critics say it has impinged on civil liberties, and discriminated against Muslims. A recent government-backed report – the Shawcross Review – meanwhile found that the scheme is “not doing enough to tackle non-violent Islamist extremism”.

Prevent is a key element of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy

/ PA Archive

The comments about Prevent’s image came from Oliver Levinson, who serves as Head of Countering Violent Extremism at the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC).

Mr Levinson, who was speaking at a Wednesday meeting of the London Assembly’s police and crime committee, said Prevent “has delivered a lot of good work that has changed and saved lives” but that it also had “shortcomings and failures”, and had struggled with “continued mistrust and scepticism” from the public.

The question of how to improve Prevent’s reputation was asked by Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon.

Caroline Pidgeon, a Liberal Democrat member of the London Assembly

/ Nigel Howard

“Isn’t the need really for a refresh, [a] re-brand of Prevent, maybe calling it something else?” she said.

“Because in some ways, it is a toxic brand, so how can you take that forward? Is that what’s needed at this stage?”

Mr Levinson replied: “I can give you an honest and personal answer to that. I think that would have been a good idea a number of years ago. I think to an extent, that ship has sailed.

“What I mean by that is a number of years ago, you had a Prevent system that wasn’t nearly as effective, fair or equitable as it is now, and if we’d had that rebrand then, and produced what we have now, which actually, in essence, is a pretty good system, [it may have worked].

Mr Levinson was among a number of guests to address the London Assembly’s police and crime committee

/ PA

“Prevent and Channel [another safeguarding strategy] are pretty good things. They’re not perfect, but they’re pretty good things.

“Now, you run the risk of the improvements having been made, and the association to the word ‘Prevent’ still being the problem. So I think it is a lot of the time a perception issue and I’m not sure that would solve the issue now.”

The recent Shawcross Review into the scheme found that it “is not doing enough to counter non-violent Islamist extremism”. The report, authored by William Shawcross, said that while eight out of 10 plot investigations across the country were linked to Islamist causes, less than a fifth of Prevent’s national caseload was in the same area.

Commander Dom Murphy, who leads the Metropolitan’s Police’s counter-terrorism wing, said his team welcomed the Shawcross Review, but “don’t necessarily recognise all of the recommendations as impacting upon our everyday delivery of Prevent in London”.

William Shawcross, author of the Shawcross Review into Prevent

/ PA Archive

He added: “That’s not to say that there aren’t some things in there that I’m sure will help us frame Prevent in a slightly different way, or perhaps deliver it in a different way”.

Mr Murphy said that in London, most Prevent referrals were related to Islamist activity – bucking the national trend identified by Shawcross.

Kenny Bowie, director of strategy at MOPAC, backed this point up with data, saying: “The latest figures that we have for this show that there were over three times as many Prevent referrals in London related to Islamist activity than there were I think for extreme right wing [views].

“It was 384 against 122, so that would suggest that they are going, and they should go, where the threat is.”

Home Secretary Suella Braverman

/ PA Wire

In her response to Shawcross, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said the Prevent programme is “critical in stopping people from becoming involved in terrorism or supporting terrorism in the first place”.

She added that the review forms “a vital part of ensuring Prevent is fit for purpose and agile enough to meet the threat we face”.

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