Sir Norman Bettison: ACPO lead on Prevent responds to the Prevent Review

Sir Norman Bettison
Sir Norman Bettison

Sir Norman Bettison is chief constable of West Yorkshire Police and the Association of Chief Police Officers lead on Prevent spoke today on the Prevent Review that was announced by the Home Secretary, Theresa May in Parliament yesterday. Refer to – Theresa May rejuvenates the Prevent element of the CONTEST Strategy 8 June 2011.
Prevent is an integral part of the UK counter-terrorism strategy, known as CONTEST, which focuses on the most significant security threat to the UK today – the threat from international terrorism.The aim of CONTEST is to reduce the risk to the UK and its interests overseas from international terrorism, so that people can go about their lives freely and with confidence. The CONTEST programmes are organised into four workstreams:

  • Pursue – to stop terrorist attacks
  • Prevent – to stop people from becoming terrorists or supporting violent extremism
  • Protect – to strengthen our protection against terrorist attack
  • Prepare – where an attack cannot be stopped, to mitigate its impact.

Pursue, Prevent, Protect and Prepare reinforce and complement each another to reduce the terrorist threat to the UK and our overseas interests.
Sir Norman commented; “Before July 2005, the focus of counter-terrorism strategy was terrorists crossing our borders to carry out their deeds. Of the 4 ‘P’s of Contest (the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy), Prepare, Protect and, following up on the national security leads to Pursue those who threatened harm on our shores were the ones that mattered. To be candid, any talk of Prevent was about trying to interdict between known intent and detonation – almost catching people in the act.”

“West Yorkshire Police was represented in the witness box at the 7/7 inquest. In reviewing the evidence beforehand, I was struck by how anachronistic our procedures and relationships with other agencies and communities were, and perhaps because of that, how limited our reach and ability to influence the upstream activity that comes long before an intent to do violent harm.Immediately after 7/7 but, more particularly because of 21/7, the police and security agencies were propelled into Pursue. The Tiger Tiger nightclub attempt and other high profile terrorist plans occupied centre ground. Pursue activity has clarity, it has targets, it has professional tactics and techniques in which everyone understands their role and responsibility. It has outcomes – arrests, successful prosecutions and terrorists put out of commission and we can see all of that.”

“So what of Prevent? Any analysis of 7/7 reveals lost opportunities long before four men set off to London on the eve of the bombings. HasibHussain used to write in his exercise books at Matthew Murray School of the glory of Al-Qaeda. Mohammed Sidique Khan and ShehzadTanweer were part of a group of young men who went on outward bound weekends in 2001 organised by radical extremists. Germaine Lindsay, the fourth bomber, was born into a Christian family and converted to Islam as a teenager adopting the most belligerent interpretations of the Qur’an. He was, on everyone’s view, an angry young man. Where was the disruption to those promoting extremism and the support of those vulnerable to recruitment?”

“Contest was first issued in 2003. But what happened in the aftermath of the July 2005 bombings changed the focus and the emphasis for its future. 7/7 showed us that whilst hatred was fashioned and schooled overseas, its impact on young men living in Britain was devastating. There were and still are sufficient young men (and occasionally women) born and bred in Britain who have grievances, feel anger, societal detachment – and some suffer mental illness – which make them all susceptible to the call of hatred, violence and even martyrdom. The internet can provide a context; radicalisers and agents of Al-Qaeda can provide the wherewithal and coordination.”

“The idea of Prevent is pretty immature in policing terms but our commitment, strategy and actions stand up to comparison with other sectors. Our idea, since 2008, (less than 36 months in development) has been to mainstream prevention of violent extremism into day-to-day policing, through neighbourhood policing which we do throughout the country in the heart of every community. Better community engagement can create a conversation about risks and harms. Our Act Now and Operation Nicoletabletop exercises, for example, are scenarios involving violent extremism explored with community groups who play the part of different constituencies and perspectives.Better intelligence collection and analysis and broadening information sharing with partners and communities through our counter terrorism local profiles have all been integral areas of work.”

“Equally important is encouraging partnership working to support vulnerable individuals and sites. A particular example is multi-agency case conferencing and interventions under the Channel programme, which has intervened with over 1,000 young people (often young men) often, but not exclusively, Muslim. Critically, the interventions have not been police- led. More often than not they have involved mentoring and counselling. Not one of the young people engaged through Channel has ever been arrested or detained in relation to a terrorism-related crime. Of course critics might say that is proof we are targeting the wrong people. But what if HasibHussain had received mentoring, counselling or challenge in his formative years?”

“Pursue activity can highlight people on the periphery for Prevent intervention and equally we can ensure that there is a process of escalation, if necessary, from Prevent to Pursue. That is, after all, what the police do and I don’t hide from the fact that in policing terms our preventing and our pursuing might sometimes overlap. I reject, completely, that the two occupy the same territory.”

“Of course, the police service understands that integration is a fundamental aspect of preventing grievance and hatred in the first place. We understand that any Prevent strategy worth its salt must be capable of tackling all kinds of extremism and not just Islamist extremism. That has been central to our strategy all along. Right-wing hatred gives way to violent intent, as we have proved through the arrests by the north-east counter terrorism unit of right-wing extremists armed with weapons, homemade bombs and Ricin. These men might equally just as easily been challenged and counselled and stopped before our dawn arrests in recent months.”

“So where to from here? The Prevent review has been completed and the revised strategy now published. The Department for Communities and Local Government, as well as the Home Office, has considered a vision for the future.”

“Last year, after two and a half years of working to embed Prevent on the ground, I was hunting for some evidence that it had had any effect. While the ultimate target, the fact of no explosions cannot be laid exclusively at the door of Prevent. I therefore commissioned some academic research from Martin Innes, of Cardiff University, who was the author of the seminal research into post 7/7 impact on relations between Muslim Communities and both the police and Government.”

“This new research highlights the fact that the policing approach to preventing violent extremism has become more sophisticated and has not caused widespread damage or harm to relationships between Muslim communities and the police. It also shows that communities are increasingly taking the lead in challenging violent extremism. What we need to do now, moving forward, is to refine the Prevent policing approach so that it reaches deeper into communities. The threat of Islamist terrorism remains severe which means that an attack is highly likely and could occur, without warning, at any time. To do nothing in the face of vulnerability to the Al-Qaeda single narrative is irresponsible. That is why Prevent is necessary.”

“We should learn lessons from the implementation of the Prevent policing approach, but it has also left us with some excellent legacies which should not be ignored. The police service looks forward to building on the important work already achieved over the last three years.”

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