‘Safeguarding not surveillance’ Police inspector speaks out on Prevent and the Channel programme
A long-serving police inspector has spoken of her extensive experience in enacting policies laid out in the Prevent strategy locally.
Inspector Andrea Bradbury of Lancashire Constabulary is set to retire later this month and during her role she has been at the forefront in helping to allay people’s fears over what remains a polarising set of policies.
From accusations of spying to misinformed ideas about ‘what is extremism’ – the government’s anti-radicalisation programme has been criticised on these very pages.
In an open and frank exchange with us she was keen to counter accusations that the programme was being used to spy on Muslims and urged parents to look at the facts before making decisions.
She said, “Prevent staff do not use surveillance or other covert tactics and Channel is a voluntary process in any case. The bottom line is that Prevent raises awareness of the issues.
“We all have a duty to prevent our children from being radicalised just as we do from drugs, sexual exploitation, gang crime and so on and people can and do rightly share concerns. Extremism is no different.
“The Lancashire approach has always been based on safeguarding, early action and Prevention not Pursue, which is about gathering intelligence and/or arresting people.
“If we had had Prevent in Lancashire before 2008 or families/schools had shared concerns some people who now hold convictions or who are in prison may not have been.
“Most problems were evident in early or teen years and youngsters can get involved in all sorts that parents need to steer them away from. Some parents and young people need help to do that.”
Inspector Bradbury said she had no qualms about criticising aspects of the programme which in her opinion had failed to address issues.
She said: “The Government created a policy which in theory is sound, however, the flaw has been in human interpretation and the link to religion rather than terrorism and extremism.
“There is also a lot of rhetoric in the media and communities and people need to check the facts out for themselves.
“I think the error came in the Government trying to articulate clearly that the most significant threat at the time came from AQ and now DAESH inspire ideologies which is true.
“However, the Irish situation, right wing, animal activism etc all still feature in people using violence today and policy needs to be impartial to religion and deal with the criminality of taking another citizen’s life or injuring them when they don’t have a choice.
“No-one ever called the IRA ‘Catholic terrorists’. Language is sensitive and key and we have never recovered from that original position exacerbated by the term ‘British Values’.
“The police have consistently tried to develop awareness on these issues.
“We are currently training all our new early action staff to understand some of the issues involved, partner training is continually developing and there has been lots of positive engagement with schools and community groups which does not hit the news.
“Our engagement showed that people in Lancashire preferred the inclusive term ‘common or shared values’ rather than a term which could be seen to divide groups.
“The more you get language and communication wrong the more grievance you create and this can become self- fulfilling.
“There is an old adage, ‘If you tell someone they are bad for long enough they start to believe it and can act that out’. If we treat others fairly we eliminate some of their excuses for violence. “Lancashire partners did ask the extremism task force to remove any reference to religion and Islam as it is unhelpful.”
Inspector Bradbury revealed how efforts had been made to assist those who were at risk from right-wing extremist propoganda.
“We do work with adults and children – one of our recent successes involves a long time right-wing activist.
“Following a bereavement, Prevent staff took time to visit and ask why he had ever embarked on what had been some quite violent activity with Combat 18 groups.
“He indicated that this hatred had been instilled in him by the person who had just died and he had known no different. He worked on several aspects of his life, identity and hopes for the future with Prevent staff.
“He had several sessions with an Imam understanding Islam. He has now put his past behind him and is moving forward.”
She pointed out there was a need for communities to engage rather than simply criticise.
“The challenge I put out is for communities and critics is to come and get involved in work in the borough– we all need to come up with the right solution to keep us all safe in the future as the picture is only becoming more complicated and the threat of online radicalisation is hugely challenging.
“Criticising from the side-lines does not help either and at least make any criticism informed rather than based on hearsay.
“We would not stand and watch our youngsters being sexually exploited or sold drugs and radicalisation is no different. People do need to stand up. By criticising you can actually help the extremists.
“Some people do not want the Prevent agenda to succeed and I leave it to your imagination as to who those people may be.”
In reference to the non-Muslim mum who contacted police because she thought her son was being radicalised Inspector Bradbury said: “The key point here is that the ‘vulnerability’ in this case was the autism condition which led to the young man self-radicalising on the internet.
“Common vulnerabilities such as isolation, grievance, lack of identity, drugs, alcohol, mental health, trauma, loss of a parent can all be factors in the radicalisation process.
“People do not usually change overnight and those around them pick up on signs.
“Some parents for example do not want to admit their son or daughter has a mental illness which makes them vulnerable or they don’t know what they are doing all night on the internet or they are frightened by their behaviours.
“Helping parents to see the risks their children are exposing themselves too, looking at diversionary activities, positive identity, getting help and support, assisting with educational and work placements, housing, volunteering and so on can all reduce risk.”
“We go the extra mile because a Terrorist conviction is a huge stigma for families and the individual when released.
“We have learnt a great deal from supported our convicted individuals here in Lancashire and assisted development of work around ‘healthy identity’ with the National probation Service. “We have some parents, siblings and families in the UK who have lost loved ones in Syria and they need coping strategies to deal with the trauma and isolation they are feeling. Some still feel unable to tell others and seek that help for fear of stereotyping or further isolation.
“Nowadays, there is even support in place for families whose loved one face a terrorist conviction just like support for someone who loses a family member in a fatal road traffic accident or an assault.”