At a time when the threat level from terrorism is at severe and following the horror of the Paris attacks, there is no doubt that violent extremism – and ways to prevent it – are currently some of the greatest challenges London is facing.
So, what measures are being taken to prevent a Paris-style attack happening in our capital and how effective can they be?
After the 7/7 bombings in 2005, the Government developed a counter-terrorism strategy known as CONTEST which is comprised of four elements: Prevent, Pursue, Protect and Prepare.
Since May 2015, the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee has been reviewing the first element – Prevent – and how this is being implemented in the capital.
Our first step was to understand exactly what the Prevent Strategy aims to do. Its objectives are listed as:
- Responding to the ideological challenge of terrorism and the threat we face from those who promote it;
- Preventing people from being drawn into terrorism and ensuring that they are given appropriate advice and support; and
- Working with sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalisation which we need to address.
We then looked at the way that key services, such as the Metropolitan Police, local authorities and community organisations work together to deliver the Strategy and what is in place to help individuals who are at risk of being drawn into extremist activity.
Throughout our investigation two things became clear:
Firstly, that public involvement is critical to the success of Prevent, as is the need for transparency. The Met Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe told us that community engagement is the “golden thread” in the success of counter-terrorism operations. We heard, however, that the public still view the Prevent Strategy with suspicion, and that the current ‘top down’ approach to Prevent delivery makes it difficult to engage and involve Londoners.
In our report ‘Preventing extremism in London’ we recommend that the public should be more involved in discussions about the best ways to prevent extremism and that the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) has a key role in making this happen.
We found that there is some excellent work being carried out in London to tackle the increasing problem of online radicalisation and in developing messages that counteract with extremist ideologies, to show those who are in danger of being radicalised that there is another way.
Secondly, more support for public services is needed. Through speaking to London’s local authorities we found that preventing extremism is high on the agenda of all boroughs, but the Government support provided is hugely inconsistent.
- Some boroughs receive specific funding and resources.
- Some have to integrate their efforts into existing services.
- And some were not aware of any support from the Home Office being offered at all.
This has resulted in variations in the level and quality of work being undertaken to deliver Prevent.
As Martin Esom, Chair of the London Prevent Board, told us, “Terrorism does not respect borough boundaries”.
We would like to see more support for boroughs to work together and be creative about the ways they help vulnerable members of the community.
Together with MOPAC, the newly launched London CONTEST Board— which will examine the implementation of all four strands of the CONTEST strategy—can make a significant contribution to these two areas. However, it must not simply be another layer of bureaucracy. It must enable people to do more, share more, and work together more closely.
Ultimately, engaging the person at risk, and all those around them, in an open and honest way is vital to success. Only by being candid about the issues, open about how they are being tackled, and by delivering a strong, positive message, can efforts to prevent extremism be expected to make a difference.
Read our report, ‘Preventing extremism in London.’
Joanne McCartney AM is Chair of the London Assembly Police and Crime on Committee.
Stay up to date with the Assembly’s work via @londonassembly.