4.1The Committee heard evidence from Abu Ahmed, Head of Local Delivery and Communications at the Home Office. Abu introduced himself and his background and said that his presentation would broadly cover three areas: the current UK threat level; why they believe people are being drawn to terrorism; and the Prevent model. A copy of the presentation will be included with the agenda documentation. During the presentation to the Committee, the following key points were noted:
4.2During the question and answer session that followed, the following key points were raised:
· The Desistence and Disengagement Program (DDP) was the mandatory part of Prevent which may be used for example when an individual is released from Prison on Probation. On Channel, consent is required, where there is no consent to take part the Police need to manage on a case by case basis.
· Currently the DDP is a pilot program. The review function is currently through the Prevent Oversight Board led by the Home Secretary. Different elements of the Prevent Program have different levels of scrutiny.
· In order to address the sometimes negative narrative in mainstream newspapers and sometimes inaccurate reports both on Prevent issues and in terms of promoting stories with racist currents and undertones, the Home Office was trying to engage with local communities to increase understanding and talk about the Far Right threat more. It was not the Government’s role to control the press and there were complex issues around freedom of speech etc. so increasing understanding was seen to be key. The Government also has an integration strategy and an “Anti Muslim-Hatred Working Group” within the MHLG.
· Members of the Committee felt that more needed to be done at Government level to understand the link between Anti-Muslim narratives in the press and the rise of the far right and extreme right.
· Members of the Committee raised concerns they had heard from constituents around Prevent around the duties on and effect on front-line staff. For example ‘turning frontline staff into border guards”. Training staff around Prevent could create a culture of suspicion. There should be more scrutiny of what the program was doing.
· The model of Prevent was about Safeguarding – individuals are groomed in the same way that they could be around a range of issues. The Home Office was reviewing their training, targeting the designated safeguarding leads and additional training around Channel Panels. There were still mistakes being made such as the Parson’s Green bomber.
· The subjects of Channel Panel are considered victims often in the same way that those of other cases of grooming.
· The Police have said there were 3000 individuals who were of special interest in terms of terrorism and 20,000 who were known. Plots were moving from conception to execution very quickly. Therefore it was increasingly important to help vulnerable individuals early.
· When asked “who monitors the success of the program and community groups who were funded?,” the Committee were informed that some things were easy to quantitively prove i.e. how much terrorist propaganda had been taken down. The range of projects funded was diverse. An example of the organisation “London Tigers” was given where feedback forms before and after the workshop to measure a change in opinion were completed. The Home Office had Commissioned Manchester University to look at analysing the success of projects on the ground.
4.3 Gary Conner, Strategic Crime, Enforcement, and Regulation Service Manager, and Martin Gormlie, Prevent Manager, presented to the committee. During the presentation and discussion the following key points were highlighted:
· A number of agencies and communities were involved. The Team had found that the work was usually very well received in the Lewisham community.
· Lewisham was a Tier 2 borough based on a government model of assessment of risk. Lewisham had a Home Office funded Prevent Manager and a Prevent Education Officer. Lewisham also received Home Office funding to help support individual local projects.
· The Home Office Good Practice models currently included a Lewisham Project: Second Wave, who produced a project focused on radicalisation. There was currently a Lewisham project drawn up focusing on the Extreme Right threat and Lewisham was working with LB Bexley and RB Greenwich on that.
· Lewisham had trained around 1000 people on Prevent in the last year and a half. The training package was felt to be good and members of the committee would be able to attend a training.
· As a Prevent borough Lewisham had to have a Prevent Delivery Group. The group met quarterly and was made up of a range of officers including representatives from: Probation, Children’s services, Goldsmiths University, SLAM, Counter-Terrorism Police colleagues and different community groups. The current two community groups that sat on the board were Second Wave and the Afghan and Central Asian Association.
· Lewisham also delivered a range of training to different organisations within the borough including GPs, Children’s Services practitioners, teachers, youth groups etc and briefings to colleagues and partners. Lewisham’s duty also involved developing a local risk assessment.
· Lewisham engages with a number of community groups through different mechanisms such as the Interfaith Forum.
· The team had done work with schools and libraries around embedding safe IT usage. The team also worked with Councillors and delivered training sessions and made proactive contact after major events.
· There had been two main projects over last few years – a Lewisham Muslim outreach project for women run by the Afghan and Central Asian Association and the Shadow Games Theatre Project run by Second Wave around how someone could be radicalised online.
· The latest Home Office regional Prevent figures had just been published. Committee members would be e-mailed the most recent report.
· Counter-extremism strategies looked at the wider harms of extremism not limited to radicalisation this could include hate crime, community cohesion etc. The role works across Faith Groups and works with the Lewisham Interfaith Forum. This would also include looking at extremist speakers. The role also provided community groups support to bid for Home Office funding.
· Standing orders were suspended at 9.00pm.
· Members requested that they be able to see the training offered to frontline staff and for feedback from the sessions on how helpful people found it.
· Members of the committee requested that further information on Lewisham specific Prevent figures be shared. They were informed that the figures for Channel were owned by the Home Office. Abu Ahmed informed the Committee that the Home Office did not publish at sub-regional level as it could be possible to identify individuals or families as the numbers were sometimes so small.
· As a response to this a member of the committee stated that the remit of the Committee review required the information. It would not need to be the specifics of an individual case, ie exact age or schools, but the overall numbers by ethnicity. The Home Office Policy of not disclosing this data potentially opened it up to charges of a lack of scrutiny, as a lack of this data inhibits local government’s ability to scrutinise. If there was a National Review, the Committee member felt strongly that building in a method of regional scrutiny was essential.
· The Committee heard that although the NUT publicly spoke against Prevent Policy, the Prevent Manager’s experience in Lewisham was that the training had been well received and people understood the purpose and place of Prevent sitting in the school’s safeguarding responsibilities.
· Briefings for LSCB and LSAB were also undertaken. Their evaluation of the Prevent part of their training could be shared with the Committee.
· Any organisation with whom the Council has a contracted relationship had an obligatory Prevent duty.
4.4 The Committee heard from Tayo Disu, Chair of the Lewisham Safer Neighbourhood Board. During her presentation and in the discussion that followed the following key points were raised:
· Tayo Disu, Chaired the Lewisham Safer Neighbourhood Board and currently their Stop and Search Sub-Committee.
· The monitoring group was run by volunteers. It had been a challenge to find people with the community engagement skills as well as the ability to work with partners and the Police.
· There had not been many meetings in the last two years due to challenges getting the engagement.
· The Lewisham SNB Stop and Search group (Community Monitoring Network) had not been attending the pan London Monitoring Network due to challenges maintaining and engaging the local group and attracting people with the right skills and experience and time. It was important that they were able to engage with this group to improve chances of influencing policy at a London-wide level and to share good practice.
· There has been less consistency in the Police dedicated stop and search lead and some challenges getting the data needed in a format that was clear to group members.
· The group had not had the capacity to do the checking of stop and search slips at the Police Station.
· The Council had supported the group analysing data at two of the meetings held recently and they were hoping this this could be continued until the group were able to do this themselves.
· There could be challenges between sharing data.
· Some community members could get very frustrated and angry around this issue.
· The SNB were working with VAL to get volunteers with the skills needed. With the monitoring Board there was a level of confidentiality and people needed to commit to a length of time.
· There was a requirement for the SNB to have a stop and search monitoring sub group.
· Members requested that Tayo provide some information to the Committee on what she felt could be done to support the stop and search sub-group.
That the report and evidence be noted and the expert witnesses be thanked for attending.