Prevent – An Everyday Story

By | 6th June 2017

Simon Cole

Here is an everyday story that won’t surprise anyone – other than it is about Prevent.

A teenager, full of adolescent angst, finds a friend on the internet. They chat, sometimes for hours, and without the teenager’s parents having any idea of what is going on. The ‘friend’ has some strong views, they empathise and start making some radical suggestions about how the teenager could make a stand. The teenager isn’t sure, but feels out of love with his life. What’s to lose? No one else understands them.

Their teacher notices that they are behaving differently, but can’t quite put a finger on why. The teacher asks for support from the safeguarding team at their school. They consult with other professionals and decide to make a Prevent referral to police. Officers quickly assess there is no immediate risk but clearly the teen needs some support and guidance.

The safeguarding officer from school puts an arm around the teenager, who reveals that they feel alienated, frustrated and not sure what do in life. A voluntary mentoring programme is introduced, run by local community members with help from the local authority. Parents are fully involved. Gradually the teenager spends less time online and their ‘friend’ drifts away. The teenager makes new friends, does well in their exams and goes off to college. Their life moves on in a positive direction. Their parents are proud.

Welcome to the reality of Prevent. No spying, no surveillance, no stigmatisation, no arrest, no search warrant, no stop and search, no criminal record. Just a multi-agency safeguarding case conference that helped refocus a young person’s life. Prevent seems sometimes to stimulate a debate that features more heat than light. That heat often seems to be about perceptions and Prevent – and urban myths –  rather than what it is actually doing. Prevent is part of a four pronged Government strategy, known as Contest, that features the four ‘Ps’.

Pursue’s purpose is to detect, prosecute and disrupt terrorist attacks. Pursue has investigative teams, surveillance capabilities and includes the security services, as well as the whole police system including neighbourhood teams, response teams and intelligence teams. Pursue is currently making on average at least one arrest for terror offences every day. Police currently have around 500 live CT investigations.

Protect seeks to strengthen protection against attacks. It includes border security, protecting the national infrastructure and crowded places. Partnerships including local councils, businesses and contingency planners work to deliver protect.

Prepare tries to mitigate the impact of any attack. It looks towards bringing attacks to an end, and leading the recovery process.

Prevent seeks to get upstream and stop people becoming terrorists, or supporting terrorism. It works with people who are vulnerable to that risk, or in places where that risk may be present. It is led by local authorities, and includes as partners local communities, health and education providers.

In a typical year about 7500 referrals are made to Prevent teams; in a population of 60 million that doesn’t seem like many to me, but it still means that there are around 20 referrals in a typical day. About a third of those referrals were assessed as needing no further action.  But hundreds of others either go onto the voluntary Channel programme – which provides multi agency safeguarding support  – or are assessed as being in need of support more akin to ‘traditional’ social support; help with housing, medication, health or employment.

Overall about 10 % of those referrals concerned far right extremism. Around 50 %  were about Islamist related extremism. A significant number of referrals featured concerns over someone’s mental health, leading to the creation of three pilot sites to properly explore that link; it appears that deliberately preying on the vulnerable may be a very real concern for us all.

Prevent isn’t perfect. However it offers safeguarding and support for those who need it, at a time when we all need to pull together to counter terrorism.

If you have concerns around someone and feel Prevent could help, you can speak to police by calling 101.