Review of Prevent programme will not examine spying allegationsHome Office says government does not believe anti-extremism programme has been used to spy
The government has decided that a review of a counter extremism project will not examine allegations that “it is the biggest spying programme” in modern times, the Guardian has learned.
Home secretary Theresa May today announced a review of Prevent, which aims to prevent people turning to violent extremism but has faced allegations that it is being used to gather intelligence on innocent British Muslims.
The government decision amounts to a rebuff to an all-party committee of MPs which called for such an investigation after hearing allegations that the programme was being used to “spy”.
The home office said it would not look at the “spying” allegations because the government did not believe them to be true.
The communities and local government select committee concluded earlier this year that Prevent had “stigmatised and alienated” British Muslims. The programme was also branded as the “biggest spying programme in Britain in modern times” by Liberty, the civil liberties pressure group.
May said the review of the Prevent programme – which the Conservatives in opposition accused of wasting money – will be carried out by Lord Carlile of Berriew QC, the government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation.
In the new inquiry the role of prisons, universities, schools and mosques will be considered in combatting extremism.
May said Prevent needed to work better and added: “Stopping radicalisation depends on an integrated society. We can all play a part in defeating extremism by defending British values and speaking out against the false ideologies of the extremists.
“I believe the Prevent programme isn’t working as well as it could and that is why we are reviewing it. I want a strategy that is effective and properly focused.”
The home office said Lord Carlile’s review would “make recommendations for a revised Prevent strategy”.
Phyllis Starkey, the chair of the communities and local government select committee, said when their report was released in March: “Many witnesses made plain they believe Prevent has been used to ‘spy’ on Muslim communities. The misuse of terms such as ‘intelligence gathering’ amongst Prevent partners has clearly discredited the programme and fed distrust.”
Last October the Guardian revealed allegations that Prevent was being used to gather intelligence about innocent people who are not suspected of terrorist involvement. The then Labour government vehemently denied the report.
The committee’s report concluded: “If the government wants to improve confidence in the Prevent programme, it should commission an independent investigation into the allegations made.”
Explaining why the government ignored the select committee’s conclusion, the home office said: “The government has always said Prevent is not a tool to spy on communities, therefore it is not in the terms of reference.”