Students urged to campaign against counter-extremism programme on campus

20 April 2022, 13:56 | Updated: 20 April 2022, 15:00

Sir Mark Rowley said the comments were 'highly dangerous'
Sir Mark Rowley said the comments were 'highly dangerous'. Picture: Alamy
Theo Usherwood

By Theo Usherwood

Sir Mark Rowley slammed "highly dangerous and highly irresponsible" comments made during a workshop where students were told to "disengage from Prevent".

Sir Mark, former head of counter-terrorism at the Met, made the comments after LBC revealed students at a workshop held at last month’s NUS annual conference were told not to report anyone they were concerned about to Prevent.

That was the response of Sir Mark Rowley, former head of counter-terrorism at the Met, to LBC’s story that students at a workshop held by FOSIS at last month’s NUS conference were told not to report anyone they were concerned about to Prevent.

In the recording passed to LBC, a student asked what they should do if they have “genuine” concerns that someone they know is watching extremist content.

It is at that point they are told by the person running the workshop at the NUS conference in Liverpool that they should ensure the person they report it to, does not pass the information on to Prevent.

“You report it to the right person in the right way, and have that assurance that you've to be confident they're not going to go to Prevent,” they are told.

Students are also told to “disengage” with Prevent at the workshop held by the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS).

It took place only two weeks before Ali Harbi Ali was sentenced to a whole-life term for the murder of MP, Sir David Amess.

At the end of his trial, it emerged Sir David’s murderer was picked up by Prevent as a teenager.

However, after telling the Home Office official what he thought he wanted to hear, Ali dropped off the authorities’ radar.

But the students, many of whom disagree with the stance, are told: “Having a conversation with the Government about Prevent is useless, right?

“We need to organise as a community. We need to go to every school, every institution, every university, telling them disengage. Do not report your children to Prevent. To every hospital, that message needs to get to their board. We do Islamophobia training and in it we teach SU, disengage. Tell university management to disengage. Do not engage with this process.”

In an interview with LBC, Sir Mark Rowley was highly critical of the comments.

He told LBC's Breakfast with Nick Ferrari: “That piece you played in terms of that workshop at the National Union of Students’, I think that is completely irresponsible. It’s one thing to disagree with Government policy about Prevent, that’s fine, that’s democracy.

“But encouraging people who have real concerns that somebody who is being drawn towards extremism, encouraging them not to go to the authorities is highly dangerous and highly irresponsible.”

In another exchange at the event in Liverpool, the students – many of whom questioned the stance held by FOSIS – were also told to “push universities to get Prevent officers there for decoration”.

Robert Halfon quizzes Zahawi on LBC exclusive on NUS Prevent

Fiyaz Mughal, who founded Faith Matters, also condemned the approach after being passed a transcript of the recording.

“Well, it’s absolutely essential that individuals report into the relevant authorities or the Prevent programme, if people are radicalised, or even if they potentially are spouting extremist rhetoric.

“Clearly, I am not talking about people who have had a hard day, or who dissent from the views of the Government, for example. That’s completely legitimate.

“It’s a right for people to dissent and disagree. What we are talking here are people who may have violent views, people who may have views which are identical to groups who are a threat, and who have carried out terrorist attacks.

“That information needs to be sent, or given, to the authorities. It's essential to ensure that we can try and save lives.”

LBC approached the NUS for a comment.

We were told they would not be able to comment until they had heard the recording.

Meanwhile, FOSIS told LBC they wished to clarify the comments in the workshop.

“Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

“As an organisation The Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) would like to clarify its position and any comments that have been attributed to it.

“We believe that any incident of concern which actually delves into the realm of criminality, is best dealt with by the designated authorities and not the Prevent agenda.

“We hold a clear position on the government’s Prevent agenda and have publicly opposed its implementation as a racist and discriminatory policy as far back as 2016. This has not changed.

“Prevent does not safeguard individuals and the wider society, its implementation leads to the alienation of Muslims and destroys the harmony and tolerance that should exist in a diverse and religiously plural Britain.“Prevent has a proven track record of failure which is why a government review of the policy is underway.”

A spokesman for the Home Office sent LBC this statement: “If authentic, any campaign that seeks to undermine the Prevent programme is irresponsible and dangerous.

“Any erosion of trust could discourage people from requesting support for a vulnerable person; support that could keep that individual away from a path of radicalisation. It also threatens to undermine the brilliant work of dedicated professionals, who work tirelessly within communities to keep them safe from extremism.

“The Home Office recognises the importance of engaging with the communities that we serve and take our responsibility to implement policy in line with the Equality Duty extremely seriously. Communities and Government need to work closely together to tackle terrorism and all forms of extremism.”

Meanwhile, Sir Mark Rowley told LBC that when he ran Met's counter-terror ops from 2014-18, no fewer than 27 plots were foiled thanks to public.

He told LBC Prevent should be mandatory for some to give it “more teeth”.

And suggested lie-detector tests to ensure those enrolled onto it can’t game it.

“People have talked about Prevent becoming compulsory, because at the moment engagement isn’t compulsory. Sir William Shawcross is doing a review for the Home Secretary at the moment and I think that may be one of things he points towards, in some cases it may be worth compelling people.

“I know we have started using, looking at lie-detectors in terms of sex offenders and sometimes terrorists leaving prison, and maybe that becomes part of it in the future, who knows?

"We have to recognise that no system is going to perfect but we are probably going to need a Prevent system with a bit more teeth, which I think is what the Home Secretary is pointing out, and I think she is right.”