Wycombe Labour believes that PREVENT the counter terrorism programme, is a counter-productive strategy and does not deal with the problems of extremism. WDC cannotgive any data on its success, what kind of extremism it has stopped nor how much money it gets for PREVENT.
We asked WDC a few questions on PREVENT through aFreedom of Information (FOI) request, but received largely evasive answers to most questions, and some questions were left unanswered. We then asked WDC to conduct an Internal Review of their decision, which led to the same result. Finally we complained to the Information Commissioner’s Office, who investigated whether WDC complied with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) investigated whether the answers provided by WDC to our questions were in line with FOI policy, and whether or not they should have given more detail. Whilst the ICO agreed with WDC’s response to most questions, it has adjudged that Wycombe District Council should:
“Confirm if information is held for part 10 and provide any recorded information in the scope of the request, subject to the application of any exemptions.”
We asked in part 10 “How do WDC and the police coordinate their efforts?” – The ICO wants the council to at least confirm through noting of meetings in a diary kept by WDC officers, (as minutes are apparently not taken of such meetings) as to how the police and WDC coordinate their efforts.
While the ICO believes other parts of the request were answered adequately, we believe that it is inexplicable as to why the following questions were not answered:
“Can you provide a breakdown of the number of people referred to PREVENT by ethnic origin and religion within WDC?” – WDC initially stated that to provide this information was a national security risk. After our complaint to the ICO, WDC confirmed that the only information on demographics was types of ideologies referred and this is held by the Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) in the police. We still consider this explanation unsatisfactory, as there are communities being victimised due to PREVENT.
“How does WDC consult the community on the PREVENT programme?”
WDC replied that “The Council has not undertaken public consultation and considers it would not be appropriate to do so, as this is a central government programme with local implementation.”
This means WDC does not care that a whole community is under suspicion without any explanation. “A central government programme with local implementation” – meaning public servants, teachers and hospital staff have a statutory duty to do the job MI5 is supposed to do. Further showing how the basic human rights of a whole section of the community are being undermined.
Rafiq Raja, leader of the Labour group on WDC, attended PREVENT training and has said that “It is essential that we live in a safe environment and those who pose a threat to our security are apprehended, but the minutia of the Prevent programme in action is very perplexing. The Prevent trainingwas eye opening in the sense that it provided evidence of how little things can add to create a profile of someone, even a child, as being radicalised (2 & 2 adding up to 5). The programme is having the conveyor belt argument that if a person is becoming more ‘religious’ or styles his facial hair in a certain way then they are at risk of radicalisation, indeed the methodology of identifying suspects becomes one in one with treating a large part of the Muslim community as suspected terrorists, as it is based on a flawed methodologyand its use of teachers and other public servants is sowing seeds of suspicion and alienating members of the Muslim community.”
Between 2012 and 2014, 56% of PREVENT referrals overall where of Muslims. This is disturbing, when one considers that the Muslim community accounts of 4.8% of the UKpopulation.
The ex-Shadow Home Secretary, Andy Burnham has called PREVENT ‘toxic’ and called for it to be scrapped. He also described it as a “policy felt highly discriminatory against one section of the community”. He further went on to say “It is creating a feeling in the Muslim community that it is being spied upon and unfairly targeted. It is building a climate of mutual suspicion and distrust. Far from tackling extremism, it risks creating the very conditions for it to flourish.”
Not only this, on a national level, the National Union of Teachers (NUT), National Union of Students (NUS) and Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) have official policy against the PREVENT agenda, showing the extent of discord among students, academics and teachers.
PREVENT both treats communities as suspects with implausible evidence, and WDC is being secretive and its answers to the various questions about its use of PREVENT in our schools, hospitals, universities and colleges shows a lack of accountability and transparency in public life and Wycombe Labour believes this cannot be good for community cohesion.