About Prevent

Read about a brief history of Prevent, browse FAQs, follow the links to touchstone resources and criticism of Prevent by major professional bodies, rights organisations, and the United Nations.

The Prevent duty has been sold to the public and public service employees as a legal duty under Section 29 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security (CTS) Act.  

It evokes a language of fear and violence to criminalise religious and political beliefs deemed by the Home Office and the Commissioner for Countering Extremism to be ‘extreme’ at any given time. In this, there is no government or legal oversight. 

To show the impact of this on people, Prevent Watch co-authored the People’s Review of Prevent, which has been endorsed by the UN and Prof Conor Gearty (see video).

Concerns about Prevent

Children Targetted

More than half of all Prevent referrals are children under 15, and 70% of our cases involve children. With our support, 100% are successful in disengaging Prevent.

Surveillance State

Over 5m people public service employees have been trained in Prevent. Our cases increasingly feature employees who choose us to speak out against Prevent.

Suspect Community

The Muslim community is the target community. 95% of our cases involve Muslims. The remaining are non-Muslim children and activists for equally misinformed ‘right-wing extremism’.

Chilling effect

Prevent has had a ‘chilling’ effect on open discussion, and 20% of our cases are referrals feature free speech violations.

Institutionalised Islamophobia

By creating an environment of mass data collection, Prevent pushes challenging voices out of public spaces where they can be moderated. 99% of our data removal cases are successful.

Flawed Science

Prevent’s assumptions linking beliefs and religiosity to violence has no credible evidential basis. However, Prevent’s data collection mechanisms are used to prove ‘success’, further reinforcing it

I wanted to speak up against this breach of even the Council’s commitment against Islamophobia. But while the Prevent trainers encouraged everyone to be open, they also implied that anyone criticising Prevent is a terrorist sympathiser.’”

Read more: Social Worker describes Prevent training criminalising legal religious beliefs.

The History of Prevent 

Prior to existing as a legal duty, Prevent was introduced in 2005 by the then Labour government as a policy targeting the Muslim community in the wake of 9/11 two years earlier. The strategy took on a more formal form in 2005, post-7/7. 

Since then, successive ‘reviews’ saw Prevent become concerned with much broader “indicators of extremism” which have come to include ideas held by anti-war and environmental activists, as well as those that challenge neo-liberalism and democracy.  

A report by CAGE entitled Prevent: A Cradle to Grave Police State gives an excellent account of Prevent in the early years.

In 2023, Amnesty International authored a report calling for Prevent to be withdrawn, entitled This is the Thought Police

In 2013, after what has become known as the Birmingham Trojan Horse Affair the Prevent programme became a legal duty, which was mistakenly linked to safeguarding. 

The Prevent duty is unprecedented. Never has the UK trained its educators, medics and social care professionals to report individuals in their care based on a series of “indicators” defined by the state.  

These “indicators” were conceived after a small study on a group of prisoners, which resulted in a list known as the ERG22+.  

The authors of the study stated that their study was not meant for broad application, let alone for use against children and young people in schools and universities. But it was rolled out anyway. 

The test of a fair and just policy is that it stands up to criticism and addresses its harms.  

In the last review of Prevent, the government reviewer did not address these harms.  

Instead, the reviewer based his recommendations on a handful of cases. The Home Office accepted them all.  

As an alternative, we co-authored the People’s Review of Prevent, based on our 600+ cases. 

Prevent operates in the ‘pre-crime space’ on the dangerous assumption that a criminal act can be prevented before an individual ever plans, or even intends it.  

To do so, it must ignore key legal principles including the assumption of innocence and the need for a solid evidential basis for suspicion.  

This is why Prevent is harmful to all who encounter it, but especially to children and young people.

Although Prevent is often cited by Government as a crucial part of the toolkit for “preventing” terrorism, there is no evidence that it works.  

Despite warnings from the UN that Prevent alienates people, flouts justice and erodes key rights, millions of public services employees have been trained in Prevent. 

Beliefs that have caused Prevent referrals include criticisms of democracy, UK foreign policy, and Palestinian activism.

People who have converted to Islam or voiced certain religious beliefs have also been targeted by Prevent, as have practices such as adopting a more religious appearance.

Frequently Asked Questions

In 2015, the Counterterrorism and Security Act passed into law. Section 29 of this Act is known as the ‘Prevent duty’. The Prevent duty placed a legal responsibility on schools, nurseries, universities, healthcare providers and the social care sector to have ‘due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.’  

While this may sound good in theory, The Prevent duty has created a securitized state in which public sector workers are trained to spots signs of ‘radicalisation’ and ‘extremism’. They are then instructed to report any concerns the Prevent Lead, who can then refer the individual to Local Authority Channel Panel. This means most often innocent individuals – and sometimes even children – encounters security services and is treated as suspicious.

However, Prevent existed as a policy long before 2015. Prevent was introduced by the New Labour government in 2003 in response to 9/11. Then the importance of the Prevent strategy increased as the government sought to deal with a risk of ‘home-grown’ terrorism in response to 7/7.

Prevent was again reviewed by the Coalition government in 2011 in order to separate direct counter-terrorism activities from integration work with communities. Integration work would no longer be part of Prevent, according to then Home Secretary Theresa May.

Despite a long British history of terrorism and counterterrorism, the Prevent Duty is historically unique. Never before has the UK trained its educators, medics and social care professionals to detect those who might become involved in terrorism.

Statistics on Prevent referrals have been long overdue and this demonstrate the lack of transparency associated  with Prevent. The statistics that were released by the Home Office for 2016 and 2017 showed a number of issues:

  1. Over 7,631 people were referred to Prevent in 2015-16
  2. 95% of the referrals did not require any intervention and were therefore false referrals
  3. Over 65% of the referrals were Muslims
  4. Over 1,500 of the 65% referrals were Muslim children under the age of 15, majority of whom did not require Channel intervention

The statistics clearly demonstrate both the failures of the policy and the disproportionate focus on Muslims, children in particular.

The Government statistics do not record Prevent referrals that are rejected by authorities. This is where families are referred to Prevent, accused of involvement with terrorism, but then rejected very early in the process. These are not recorded in the statistics but the family is left traumatised.

The majority of the people being referred to Prevent are Muslim. Over 65%, of the referrals were Muslims (2016), including nearly 2,000 Muslim children, whilst the Muslim population of the UK is less than 5%. There is clearly a disproportionate focus on Muslims for which there has been no accountability.

A significant portion of the Prevent funding has gone to ‘Muslim areas’ also referred to as ‘priority areas’. This broad-brush approach has meant all Muslims in a given area are viewed through the security lenses of terrorism, thus creating ‘suspect communities’.

Waltham Forest Council of Mosques, consisting of nine mosques, made a public statement that Prevent ‘is racist, and overtly targets members of the Muslim faith’ and further went on to state: ‘we call for a boycott of [Prevent] in all its guises’.

Panic created by the Birmingham school hoax created the environment to insert Prevent, which is a security policy, into safeguarding practice throughout the public sector. However, this has eroded trust, which is a crucial part of public service.

Recent research has shown that Prevent in fact is not safeguarding at all. Safeguarding experts, doctors and social workers among others have criticised the Prevent duty stating it is not their role to do the police’s work and act as counter-terrorism operatives because doing so eroded the trust needed for them to do their jobs properly.

Similarly, the 2-hour Prevent (WRAP) training has been criticised as being discriminatory and flawed.

During the ‘safeguarding’ assessments, families are viewed through a securitised lens. The Local Authority becomes involved in families due to alleged ‘radicalisation’ concerns, often based on information from the Police, but evidence shows families have subsequently been assessed by their religiosity and upon Islamophobic judgments rather than any genuine concerns over children’s welfare.

Prevent is not safeguarding. Rather it is an abuse of existing safeguarding policies and a threat to children’s welfare in a multicultural society.

We believe that existing safeguarding policies without Prevent are adequate to deal with any genuine safeguarding concerns. We also believe that to oppose Prevent is to guard the integrity of an effective and just public sector.

Prevent is described as being voluntary yet evidence shows that coercive tactics are being used in implementing Prevent.

Individuals are often not informed that engagement with Prevent is voluntary and feel that they have no choice but to engage with Prevent.

Simon Cole has said that Prevent is ‘voluntary’ but if individuals do not cooperate with Prevent, this will make the police suspicious and they may initiate the Pursue strand of Contest (UK’s counter terrorism strategy). This is how we are in fact seeing Prevent being implemented on the ground and it renders obsolete the alleged ‘voluntary’ nature of Prevent.

Prevent criticism is consistently dismissed by Prevent leads and practitioners as ‘myths’, even with a number of cases showing that the policy is flawed and Islamophobic. Two cases they often highlight are ‘Terrorist House‘ case and ‘Cucumber‘ case – both are detailed on our website and we recommend you read and judge for yourself.

These cases are the result of the environment created by Prevent and counter-terrorism policies under which Muslim children, and the community at large, are viewed through a securitized lens, and are presumed guilty.

Prevent Watch has documented over 400 cases of individuals impacted by Prevent, with the youngest cases being 3 years old.

Many people, organisations and bodies have spoken out against Prevent, below are just a few examples:

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has called for an independent review of Prevent in its report on the new Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill to which Prevent Watch also submitted evidence.

National Union of Teachers have called for Prevent strategy to be scrapped citing the impact Prevent has had on free and open debates in schools, impact on teacher-student relationships and causing Muslim students to fear expressing their opinions and openly practicing their religion.

The British Medical Association agreed a motion to support any members who refuse to take part in the Prevent training scheme. Doctors said the obligations on them were “Orwellian” “Kafka-esque” and “like a scene from Minority Report” – claiming the measures were creating “a climate of fear and mistrust”. Read More >>

Predicting very rare events is extremely difficult. No tools have been developed that can reliably identify people who have been radicalised, who are at risk of radicalisation or who are likely to carry out a terrorist act. Assessment of risk is therefore best done on a case-by-case basis, as part of professional safeguarding practices. Read More >>

Following a country visit to the UK in 2016, Maina Kiai, former UN special rapporteur on freedom of assembly, has stated that “by dividing, stigmatizing and alienating segments of population, Prevent could end up promoting extremism, rather than countering it’’.

UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance noted that PREVENT was “inherently flawed”, “vague” and lacked any supportive evidence demonstrating its success while the UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Privacy stated that representatives of British Muslims reported that PREVENT is “dividing, stigmatising and alienating communities” recommending that “sufficient resources to be allocated by the UK Government to reinforce the evidence-base as to the previse impact of PREVENT and similar measures on privacy and other fundamental rights”.

In a public statement, the groups of mosques that represents up to 70,000 Muslims, has vowed to boycott the government’s anti-terrorism Prevent programme after accusing the policy of being a racist attack on the Islamic community. Read More >>

360 leading Professors, Academics, professionals in Terrorism and community leaders call for an end on Prevent including: Karen Armstrong, Professor Marc Sageman, Professor Noam Chomsky (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Professor Humayun Ansari (Royal Holloway, University of London), Professor David Miller (University of Bath) and many more. Read the statement here.

The Government has largely ignored the mounting evidence and increasing calls for an independent review of Prevent. If Prevent remains, it will continue to cause more alienation and harm and must therefore be reviewed and ultimately scrapped.

Prevent is a failed and counter-productive policy based on flawed science which was never meant to be used on such a wide scale. Over 140 experts signed an open letter criticising the science from which the “risk factors” used in Prevent derive. Prevent is based on a flawed understanding of ‘radicalisation’ and is focused on ideology rather than other factors, such as domestic and foreign policy grievances, which research, including statements by former Deputy Director General of MI5, shows play a greater role in politically motivated violence but which the government continues to ignore.

As a result, there have been serious human rights and civil liberties concerns raised about Prevent, which statistics and our cases clearly evidence has predominantly been used to target Muslims and silence dissent, This is impacting thousands each year. Prevent has caused irreversible damage from schools to healthcare. Prevent has had a toxic effect across the board as parents and children have lost confidence and trust in authorities, while university students are now self-censoring as a result of Prevent’s chilling effect.

“By dividing, stigmatizing and alienating segments of population, Prevent could end up promoting extremism, rather than countering it” — United Nations

Who has criticised Prevent

The far-reaching consequences of the Prevent strategy on British Muslims is a key concern for Fionnuala Ni Aolain, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and freedoms while countering terrorism. She shares her insights with TRT in this interview. Read More >>

This is the Thought Police, a report authored by Amnesty International, illustrates that Prevent is a dangerously broken system where the vast majority of people reported do not present any threat. Read More >>

The United Kingdom has become the victim of a series of dangerous assaults, writes Irina von Wiese, Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament. Read More >>

Predicting very rare events is extremely difficult. No tools have been developed that can reliably identify people who have been radicalised, who are at risk of radicalisation or who are likely to carry out a terrorist act. Assessment of risk is therefore best done on a case-by-case basis, as part of professional safeguarding practices. Read More >>

Prevent reinforces an ‘us’ and ‘them’ view of the world which divides communities and sows mistrust of British Muslims. It should be replaced by strategies based on dialogue, transparency and openness. Read More >>

The British Medical Association agreed a motion to support any members who refuse to take part in the Prevent training scheme. Doctors said the obligations on them were “Orwellian” “Kafka-esque” and “like a scene from Minority Report” – claiming the measures were creating “a climate of fear and mistrust”. Read More >>

In a public statement, the groups of mosques that represents up to 70,000 Muslims, has vowed to boycott the government’s anti-terrorism Prevent programme after accusing the policy of being a racist attack on the Islamic community. Read More >>

360 leading Professors, Academics, professionals in Terrorism and community leaders call for an end on Prevent including: Karen Armstrong, Professor Marc Sageman, Professor Noam Chomsky (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Professor Humayun Ansari (Royal Holloway, University of London), Professor David Miller (University of Bath) and many more. Read More >>

In a statement, religious and community leaders in Newham – who regularly draw thousands of locals into their mosques – warn that the schemes are “exclusively targeting young Muslims for the views they hold on religion or issues such as government foreign policy”. Read More >>