What is Prevent?
Launched in 2006, Prevent is a key part of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy. The government says it “aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism”, but others see it as a domestic spying programme, collecting intelligence about the thoughts and beliefs of individuals, overwhelmingly British Muslims, who are not involved in criminal activity. Much of this information has been gathered by schools, youth projects, religious and voluntary groups, either under intense pressure from the police or as a condition of the £140 million of funding attached to Prevent.
Over the years, Prevent has become increasingly discredited: in March 2015, it was described by one senior police officer as a ‘toxic brand‘. An increasing number of organisations wanted no part in what was previously a voluntary programme, so the government has placed it on a statutory footing with the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act, which received Royal Assent in February 2015.
From 1st July 2015, every local authority, every educational institution and every NHS Trust, as well as the police and Prison Service, has a new legal duty to, “when exercising its functions, have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. The government has also defined extremism in the Prevent strategy as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British Values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.”