Prevent Watch

How the Shawcross recommendations ignore the Manchester Arena Enquiry

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The Shawcross recommendations to Prevent ignore the Manchester Arena Enquiry, and rather urge a greater securitisation of society that is harmful in the long term.

This is an excerpt from the People’s Review of Prevent: A Response to the Shawcross Report.

The Shawcross recommendations urge a ratcheting up of the security focus of Prevent, even though the Manchester Arena Inquiry found serious problems with policing and the security services and did not link the bombing to a “failure of Prevent”. Rather it has been linked to the need to improve the Protect aspect of the CONTEST strategy.

Despite this, the Home Secretary has accepted the recommendation that there be a re-direction of Prevent away from right-wing extremism toward “Islamist” extremism, which ratchets up its most problematic aspects and denies statistical evidence of where current threats lie.

She has also accepted his recommendation that Prevent should focus on the ‘susceptibility’ of an individual to endanger public safety, rather than on an individual’s vulnerability.

There is now ample evidence that Prevent does not reduce the risks of individuals being drawn to terrorism in at least two of its domains – schooling and health – and in fact is counter-productive among young people and the psychologically vulnerable.

In these sectors, it should be removed and placed by safeguarding measures directed at supporting the well-being and mental health of children and vulnerable adults.

Ignoring Operation Dovetail despite its relevance

When it comes to terrorism, the Shawcross Report conflates the different strands of CONTEST, especially Prevent and Pursue.

The “failures” Shawcross so readily attributes to Prevent in actual fact lie in the area of policing and the prison services. They are serious failings, but they will not be addressed by Shawcross’s recommendations to increase the role of the security services in the implementation of Prevent.

This recommendation by Shawcross was already under criticism within Operation Dovetail, which was piloted across nine areas from 2016.

Whereas the Shawcross Report recommends a greater involvement of police and the security services in the determinations of Prevent panels, the Dovetail pilots moved in the opposite direction.

They increased the role of local authorities and their different agencies, and reduced that of counter-terrorism officers, to reduce the burden on the security services.

Shawcross concedes that the Home Office’s evaluation of Dovetail was positive.

Additionally, the Greater Manchester Tackling Hateful Extremism and Promoting Social Cohesion Commission set up by the Mayor of Manchester in 2018 in the wake of the Manchester Arena bombing recommended adopting Dovetail in Manchester.

But this is another report that Shawcross does not discuss, even though he devotes considerable space to the implications of the Manchester bombing.

Neither does he undertake a systematic examination of the issues raised by the Dovetail pilots and their evaluation.


Shawcross recommendations will increase authoritarian policing

Instead, using the comments of some practitioners (who are not named) who stated in the Dovetail pilot “that the counter-terrorism risk was no longer being given priority, and had been overtaken by safeguarding”, Shawcross invokes his hierarchical and centralised model of Home Office control of Prevent, to recommend moving away from an emphasis on safeguarding.

His recommendation that Prevent be brought under strong central control and political direction is directed against local autonomy in the organisation of programmes.

This is the reason why he recommends Prevent Priority Areas[1] be abandoned and replaced with regional bodies headed by Regional Commissioners.

In effect, these are to coordinate all local authority Panels within a region, making Prevent less subject to modification in the light of locally-defined needs.

Shawcross’s so-called “hybrid approach” means greater securitisation in that “referrals into Channel are carried out by both Police and local authority simultaneously; initial visit to referee is carried out by either the Police or local authority (whomever the panel decide is best placed to assess risk with each case); completion of all risk assessments and information gathering is carried out by the Police” (para 6.126).

This means more policing in schools, among other things. For example, regions will align with the organisation of the Regional School Commissioners responsible for free schools and academies, which otherwise operate under the direct responsibility of the Department for Education.

This is against all case-based evidence as well as against the findings of the Manchester Enquiry.


[1] The Prevent Priority Areas have not previously been named, nor the criteria by which they were determined, since 2015. We were able to identify them through FoI requests as part of our People’s Review of Prevent to show (based on the 2011 census) that around three quarters of British Muslims lived in a Prevent Priority Area, compared with around a third of the population of England and Wales as a whole.


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