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Online radicalisation has worsened during Covid pandemic, counter-terror chief tells LBC

18 November 2020, 08:58 | Updated: 18 November 2020, 10:00

By Megan White

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu has told LBC it’s down to friends and family to spot signs of children being radicalised as extremism cases rise during Covid.

Speaking to LBC’s Nick Ferrari, the head of UK counter-terrorism policing said online radicalisation has “only got worse” during the pandemic and police are “really concerned about that.”

A new website - actearly.uk - is being launched to help concerned parents get advice on how to deal with teenagers who may be showing signs of radicalisation, along with a new national Police Prevent Advice Line on 0800 011 3764.

AC Basu told LBC: “We don’t think there’s anything more important we could be doing in counter-terrorism than launching this website today.

“We’ve always been incredibly concerned about online radicalisation – that’s only got worse during this pandemic.

“On top of that of course, some of our most vulnerable members of society, our children, who need to be protected, have been spending more and more time online with access to that kind of extremist material.

“We’re really concerned about that and what we want is for parents, friends, people who love our most vulnerable children, who are most likely to see changes in their behaviour to be able to go somewhere for advice, to be able to speak to somebody in confidence, but also to read for themselves what the signs might be and what they might want to do about it.

“That’s the purpose of Act Early – actearly.uk is a website that does precisely that for parents and friends of loved ones.”

Describing the signs of radicalisation, A/C Basu said children may become withdrawn from friends and family, spend a lot of time on their own or “starting to talk in a way that you just don’t recognise.”

He said friends and family will recognise the changes “long before any professional will” and said we face the “perfect storm” as children have been away from schools.

AC Basu continued: “Because they’ve been away from that protective factor, we’re now reliant on friends and family, and we only get two per cent of our referrals from friends and family and we want to increase that.”

Figures show that a total of 12 under-18s were arrested for terror offences in 2019, of whom 10 were linked to extreme right wing beliefs.

The proportion is high compared to data for all age groups, which shows that 20% of terrorism arrests in the year to June 30 2020 were linked to the ideology.

AC Basu said that while Islamist terrorism remains the greatest threat and makes up 80% of his workload, right wing extremism is the fastest growing threat and has grown from 6% to 10% of his work in the past few years.

Terrorist groomers from both Islamist and extreme right wing ideologies deliberately target vulnerable people including children.

In the 18 months to June 30, 2020, a total of 17 under 18s were arrested on suspicion of terrorism, some as young as 14. Police said most will have been radicalised entirely online.

During that period police say 1,500 children under the age of 15 were helped by the Prevent programme, a government scheme to divert people away from terrorism.