Prevent Strategy

A report on tackling ‘hateful extremism’ commissioned in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena attack has been caught up in a barrage of criticism entirely of its authors’ own making, after smearing anti-fracking campaigners and then admitting it made a “dreadful error”.

The report, A Shared Future [, 1.2Mb] by the Greater Manchester Preventing Hateful Extremism and Promoting Social Cohesion Commission, included a case study of a 14 year old boy, “Aaron”, who it alleged ‘groomed’ by anti-fracking campaigners and therefore referred by his school to the Prevent “deradicalisation” programme, Channel, due to “concerns about his extreme beliefs in relation to the environment, specifically issues around fracking”.

The case study alleged the teenager had been “targeted via social media and encouraged to participate in local protests, hand out leaflets, etc. by local activists” and that counter-terrorism police officers had intervened to issue “an abduction notice to the main protagonist of the social media lobbying”, which immediately frightened away all the campaigners “Aaron” was in contact with.

The report notes, approvingly, that “the police and other partners have a wealth of disruption tactics at their disposal”.

Following swift condemnation by Netpol and the Green Party peer Jenny Jones, Greater Manchester Police subsequently told the Guardian that the case study was false: “Aaron” was never involved in the anti-fracking movement and had allegedly been “targeted by an entirely different group of activists”.

The report’s authors said, in a statement on Twitter, that “the case study mistakenly said that concerns were raised around fracking. They were actually raised around a form of environmental extremism – but it had nothing to do with fracking”.

This “clarification” raises more questions than it answers. Opposition to fracking falls far outside the report’s own definition of what constitutes “hateful extremism”, so why was the anti-fracking movement even considered as an example of “extreme beliefs in relation to the environment”?

What does the report – and more importantly, the Prevent counter-terrorism officers who briefed the Greater Manchester Preventing Hateful Extremism and Promoting Social Cohesion Commission and provided it with examples – mean by another form of “environmental extremism”? How can we trust that this is not as much of a smear on legitimate campaign activities as its woeful mischaracterisation of anti-fracking activism?

Crucially, why was absence from school to participate in political activism, no matter how concerning to worried parents, ever considered a police matter? How is it ever justifiable to threaten campaigners who are taking part in local protests, handing out leaflets and encouraging others to engage with issues of national political concern with an abduction notice and the damning allegation of involvement in “grooming”?

What consideration was given to the rights to freedom of expression, thought and belief that children like “Aaron” have under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, including the recognition that any restriction of rights is limited to circumstances where this is necessary, proportionate and clearly laid out in law? Were these rights even a consideration?

Why is a supposedly serious report advocating “learning from other crime types such as child sexual exploitation” that “should be translated into other arenas” when there is no evidence in this case study that any crime was ever committed?

Everything about this – from the willingness of counter-terrorism police to apply the meaningless label of “domestic extremist” to whomever they want, to the draconian and disproportionate way they then act on the “threat” campaigners supposedly pose – speaks volumes about everything that is wrong with Prevent.

Netpol continues to argue for an end to the smearing of legitimate political dissent as “extremism” and the complete removal of counter-terrorism officers from any further involvement in issues related to public order policing.