A senior Met officer is urging families to call a new, confidential helpline as soon as possible if they are worried a loved one may be becoming radicalised during the pandemic. 

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Detective Superintendent Jane Corrigan, head of London Prevent, which seeks to identify and help people at risk of radicalisation, has seen a reduction in referrals to her team by sectors such as health and education since the first lockdown. 

From the start of lockdown on Monday, 23 March to Monday, 22 June, referrals decreased by 31 per cent compared with the same period in 2019.

Det Supt Corrigan, said: “Relatives and friends are best placed to spot worrying behaviour at an early stage and can help the person they care about get the support they need to move away from extremism, yet only four per cent of referrals to my team in the past year were made by friends and families. This is particularly troubling during a period when people are spending more time at home and not in places – like schools – where worrying behaviour might otherwise be spotted.”

The new national Police Prevent Advice Line – 0800 011 3764 – is staffed around the clock and anyone can call it. They don’t have to provide their details or details of their loved ones if they would prefer not to, although this information may help ensure appropriate support is provided. 

Det Supt Corrigan continued: “One phone call to the new advice line could be the difference between a loved one ending up hurting themselves and others, or them getting the help they need to choose a positive life path, away from harmful activities and people.

“As a mother myself, I can understand the idea of ringing the helpline may seem daunting but I would reassure you that it’s staffed by specially-trained officers – many of them parents themselves – who are ready and waiting to listen to you and provide expert advice.”

Advice on radicalisation – including the signs to look for – can also be found on the new ACT Early website

Every year, Det Supt Corrigan’s team receives hundreds of referrals relating to people for whom there are concerns of radicalisation. In the 12 months, 1 November 2019 to 31 October 2020, there were 804 such referrals – a decrease of 13 per cent on the previous year, when 921 referrals were made. 

The majority of referrals in which the individual is assessed to be at risk from radicalisation relate to Islamist extremist and right-wing ideologies. 

Islamist extremism-related referrals continue to account for the biggest single group.

Despite an overall decrease in referrals relating to young people aged 19 and under, they still accounted for 36 per cent of all referrals in last 12 months. 

Det Supt Corrigan explained: “During these times when people are isolated and increasingly spending time online, where there is a risk of exposure to radicalising material, it’s more important than ever that friends and families are looking for early signs of radicalisation. The process of radicalisation can happen incredibly quickly – we’ve seen cases where it has happened within weeks even – so I would really urge families to pick up the phone or go to the new website for advice as soon as they identify something may be wrong.

“My team’s role is to assess whether there is something to be concerned about and, if there is, how we and our partners can help the person involved and their families. Whether they choose to receive support is entirely a matter for them – it’s completely voluntary. 

“Sometimes it turns out there is nothing to be worried about, in which case we can give the worried caller peace of mind. Other times there may not be a risk of radicalisation but we identify a different safeguarding concern instead. In those cases, we work with our partners to ensure the individual gets offered the opportunity for the right support from the appropriate professionals.

“Whatever happens, we’ll never tell the person you’re worried about that you called us, unless you say we can.” 

Det Supt Corrigan’s team works with professionals in health, education, local authorities and charities, as well as faith and community groups to help vulnerable people move away from extremism. 

Together they put the right package of support in place. That could be support from a doctor, through a school, or with a local community group or mentor, for example.

Anyone can be susceptible to radicalisation but Det Supt Corrigan and her team are ready and waiting to help. 

In one case in London, a teenager who was showing signs of right-wing extremism turned his life around after accepting an offer by Prevent to engage with Channel, a programme which focuses on providing support at an early stage to people who are identified as being vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism.

The teenager’s case was referred to Prevent after he displayed worrying behaviour at school, including drawing violent images and expressing an interest in right-wing violence. He had shown some similar, violent behaviours at home.

Det Supt Corrigan’s team worked with the local authority to provide a range of support, including assigning a mentor with whom the boy was able to speak, and who helped him identify an interest in gardening. He was also introduced to a Muslim police officer who, through discussion, was able to show a counter-narrative to the boy’s extreme views on race and religion.

With continued support, the boy developed a more balanced perspective and took a more positive life view, turning away from extremism and instead pursuing a number of personal interests and academic goals. 

In cases where the signs of radicalisation are not detected and referred to Prevent, the outcome can be far less positive, resulting in the individual continuing on an extremist path and ultimately facing the very real prospect of arrest and prosecution or going on to harm themselves and others. 

Det Supt Corrigan concluded: “Picking up the phone to speak to one our specialists, or visiting the ACT Early website, could be one of the most important things you do for the person you love, so please don’t wait until things have gone too far to change them. Help them now.”