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Prevent: how we safeguard the vulnerable and how we manage our data

Protecting children and adults from harm is a key priority for the police service and this is no different for those of us working in Counter Terrorism Policing. We aim to intervene at the earliest possible stage so that, working with others such as local councils, health and mental health service providers, and education professionals, we can prevent people from being drawn into all forms of terrorism or supporting terrorism. This includes extreme right wing and Islamist ideologies. Radicalisation is the name we give to the process through which people might come to support or be involved in terrorism or violent extremism.

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I have spent 18 years working in front-line neighbourhood policing roles and over 10 years volunteering as a school governor of a large inner-city school. My experience is in working with communities and building partnerships to solve community-based problems. Police officers, like many in public service, care immensely about improving lives and keeping people safe. That is why I am passionate about Prevent and I am proud to lead the work undertaken by the police to deliver it. We are constantly striving to do better, which is why I welcomed the announcement of the independent review and its goals to increase transparency and improve counter radicalisation work. We acknowledge Prevent inspires strong views, but that makes it even more important that everyone engages with the review. I hope all opinions are considered to improve how we work together to keep everyone safe from terrorism.

Recently, some questions have been raised about how we deal with referrals and what happens to the information we receive. I’d like to address that directly and be clear about what Prevent is and the police role in delivering it.

What is Prevent?

Our approach begins by understanding people are victims of radicalisation; we don’t view them as suspects or criminals. When someone is referred to us we offer early help as an alternative to leaving views or behaviour to escalate to the stage where investigation and arrest may become necessary. Prevent stops people from being drawn into criminal activity and offers a way out of extremism. Our approach is rooted in care and concern for those involved.

Prevent protects vulnerable individuals, their families, friends and our communities by helping people to overcome the issues that make them vulnerable to radicalisation. A sense of grievance with the world or seeing life through a ‘them and us’ mind-set, frequently set against complex needs such autism spectrum disorders, alcohol and drug problems, and mental illness, can conspire to make people vulnerable. Each journey is unique and our approach, using the voluntary Channel Programme to co-ordinate the work of other professionals, charities and community groups, builds solutions that are as unique as the people we serve.

So what happens when a referral is received by the police?

When the police receive a referral it will be professionally assessed and, if there appears to be a genuine cause for concern, we will make contact with the individual. Information about the case is entered onto the Prevent Case Management Tracker (PCMT) and we work hard to gain the consent of individuals and their families to receive support. The Home Office published a simple flow diagram of what happens next in the 2018 Contest Strategy document (page 38). Records of the information given to us and what actions are subsequently taken are kept on the PCMT. The police apply similar processes and record similar information to other safeguarding concerns like child sexual exploitation, domestic abuse or human trafficking.

We developed our method of recording information to help us understand individual vulnerabilities, to monitor whether these are increasing or if a particular intervention is working, to ensure there is consistent practice across the country, and to enable the sharing of information between Prevent officers if someone moves to a different area. Records enable us to manage unresolved vulnerabilities and outstanding actions, and, importantly, they ensure we act proportionately, taking action only where support is necessary.

All records held are subject to legal requirements; they are monitored regularly and deleted when it is no longer necessary to keep them. Records allow us to produce and publish annual statistics that facilitate oversight and accountability of our work. They do not include details of individual cases to protect the identities of those supported by our programmes. To be clear, information held about referrals to Prevent is not a criminal record and it is not shared with prospective employers, universities or colleges.

Only a relatively small number of trained police Prevent professionals have access to the PCMT and, although other officers or agencies could request to see certain information held, this would only be granted in very specific circumstances based on risk. We take great care with the information we hold and treat all personal information sensitively, confidentially and in accordance with the law.

We follow the same rules for our Prevent database as police colleagues working in other areas of safeguarding like child sexual abuse, domestic violence or human trafficking. This helps us to keep people safe and I believe this is what the public would expect.

And how does Prevent work in practice?

Radicalisers pray on those who are vulnerable, including adults with complex needs or young children in their formative years.

For example, sometimes concerns are raised for young children who display extreme language or behaviour. The response of professionals, similar to if a young child used sexualised language or behaviour, is to protect the child from harm and identify what caused the behaviour. Is the child being groomed online? Have they been the victim of abuse? Who is abusing them? The solution might be a simple one, such as providing internet safety education for parents, or in cases of serious harm, it may involve specialist support for the child and managing the ongoing risk by identifying and dealing with the radicaliser. Prevent is no different to other forms of safeguarding.

I see the tireless work of Prevent professionals every day, supporting people through mentoring, mental health intervention, securing employment, or providing help with gaining a college or university place. To highlight just one recent case, a young college student had posted extremist views online and their behaviour resulted in exclusion from college. Prevent officers supported them through the Channel programme to overcome the hate they felt towards others. The case officer visited five colleges with the young person before successfully convincing a Principal to give them a second chance. Previous behaviour, often visible online and on social media indefinitely, has the potential to blight futures. I am proud of the work of my Prevent colleagues in giving people a second chance.

What can you do?

Anyone with concerns can come forward and report these in confidence, knowing that the information they share will be dealt with sensitively and proportionately. If you are concerned for a loved one, please contact local police on 101.


Chief Superintendent Nik Adams, National Coordinator for Prevent

Follow on Twitter: @NatCoordPrevent