An Open Reply to CAGE by Nazir Afzal

An Open Reply to CAGE

Dear Mr Qureshi

I thank you for your open letter published today and, whilst I do not have the resources of your organisation, nor anymore the resources of Government, I thought I would offer something of a reply

I have consistently argued that the Prevent programme has many shortcomings, not the least of which have been poor communication, transparency and community engagement, but I have also seen, first hand, the work of dozens of grassroots organisations funded by Prevent which continue to protect vulnerable people from those who would wish them and others harm. It is safeguarding, no more and no less.

There are many myths peddled about Prevent which do you and others a disservice. At the recent Society of Asian Lawyers Event at which I spoke, I was pleased to finally see Prevent Watch accept that the “terrorist house” example that they include on the front page of their site did not involve Prevent despite having said so on every possible occasion. Cage regularly suggest, for example, that the “conveyor belt model” (ie the more conservative someone becomes, the more at risk they are) is used by Prevent when I have seen no evidence of it. On the contrary, I said as much on BBC Question Time on 25th May 2017 and also articulated how dangerous it was to even consider focussing on that given many recruits to Daeesh had the most basic understanding of Islam.

DISCRIMINATION

You mention the proportion of referrals as being indicative of discrimination. The most recent figures I have seen show a third of referrals to Channel are far right. I would suggest that this deliberately misunderstands what safeguarding is. Prevent, like any safeguarding tool, has to be directed at what current threats and risks are.

I don’t have any current special knowledge about Hindu, Sikh, Methodist, Jewish, or Buddhist, Athiest or Agnostic threats of violent extremism we face in the UK, but last time I did, it was negligible. There is a real threat from violent extremism in relation to Northern Ireland and from the Far Right, but the largest risk attaches to so called Islamist Extremism. I am sure that the Government could be more transparent and tell us more, but I have seen the evidence. In that regard, why is anyone surprised that most referrals are Muslims? Of course, in Wales, Northern Ireland and North-East England, referrals of Muslims are the minority.

Wearing my former National hat safeguarding those at risk of sexual abuse, more than 80% of referrals were girls because that’s where the greatest risk is. That’s not being discriminatory, that’s just a fact. I don’t see women and girls complaining that they are 4 times as likely to be referred for support.

Daeesh use sophisticated grooming techniques on our children and young, early intervention is the answer in ALL safeguarding. Again, I would urge the Government to show people what happens during the Channel programme – it’s just mentoring, coaching and support.

INTELLIGENCE

The State got off to a decent start in the first couple of years of Prevent after 7/7. Then we had poor judgment that led to CCTV being installed without any engagement in certain parts of Birmingham. Thankfully exposed and removed. I can see why people then began to talk about Prevent being surveillance. However, after those ill-judged adventures, the programme has greater clarity (page 6 of the 2011 strategy) forbids its use for intelligence gathering. I was present when the Home Secretary mentioned how Prevent could provide intelligence but BBC Question Time did not afford me or her to explain.

Let me give you the only example in which this may happen;

Imagine if you will, a neighbourhood where there are a spate of distraction type burglaries of elderly people in one particular month. Each reported separately would not suggest that this was one gang working together unless it went from the local PCSO to the regional CID who looked at the bigger picture. In exactly the same way, if you have a number of Prevent referrals in the same neighbourhood in a short period of time of people of similar vulnerabilities. It would be right, would it not, to investigate whether there was one recruiter or team of recruiters at work. That is the ONLY circumstance in which it would appropriate to investigate further.

CRITICS  I could mention the supporters that include the Association of Teachers and Lecturers or even the Association of Muslim Schools. I could add my name to both your list of critics and those who support Prevent. Not because I am conflicted but because life is more nuanced that you would suggest. The UN Rapporteur based her findings a year ago on 17 examples of poorly handled cases. You know what, if I wanted, I could base my study entirely on hundreds of well-handled cases.

I saw published yesterday a report prepared independently on Schools and Colleges by academics at Coventry, Huddersfield and Durham Universities which found that the Prevent duty had led to MORE open discussions around extremism, intolerance and inequality. It found relatively little evidence of the “chilling effect” often referred to.

On the Extremism Risk Guidance (ERG) and Channel Vulnerability Assessment Framework (VAF) I will defer entirely to the academics and I see that they are yet to agree. However, I know for a fact that the ERG is NOT used to predict whether someone will engage in extremist offending. It can only help to make a decision on what support should be made available.  Training remains “work in progress.”

CONCLUSION

I base all my judgments on evidence, not assumptions or anecdotes. I can’t say that I know all there is to know but I am doing my best to find out. I am receiving no support – financial or otherwise – from the State, the Government or any other person. You will know I resigned my most recent role as Chief Executive of the country’s Police & Crime Commissioners (with no prospect of another job to go to) so that I could speak up on a myriad of community safety issues which I was prohibited from speaking about. Why? Because I care deeply about my fellow citizens, particularly those who are most vulnerable. I have seen the good that Prevent can do – warts and all – and all of us should be committed to protecting our children from ALL the threats they face.

I wish you well in your endeavours

Yours Sincerely

Nazir Afzal

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