Radicalisation is 'biggest terrorist risk' to St Helens, council says

The threat of right-wing radicalisation is believed to be the biggest terrorist risk in St Helens, a council meeting was told.

Thursday, 4th October 2018, 5:14 pm
Updated Friday, 5th October 2018, 5:10 pm
St Helens town hall

St Helens Council’s cabinet approved its PREVENT Operational Guidance and Action Plan 2018- 2021 on Wednesday.

Originally published by the government in 2011, the PREVENT strategy is part of the overall counter terrorism strategy CONTEST, which aims to reduce the threat to the UK from terrorism by preventing people from becoming influenced through extreme and radical ideology.

The strategy has been updated in response to the increased level of risk and the recent attacks on London and Manchester, which have prompted an overall review of the approach to terrorism.

Jason Pickett, the council’s assistant director for children’s social work support, said there is still a “great deal to do” on the agenda of radicalisation in St Helens.

“St Helens needs to make rapid progress in terms of its development and how advanced the PREVENT agenda is in St Helens,” he said.

“There’s a bit of catch-up that needs to take place so we’re in line with other authorities both regionally and nationally.”

Within the strategy is the CHANNEL Panel, a statutory multi-agency panel that is part of the early intervention approach to the PREVENT strategy.

The panel records all cases that have been referred, with referral rates in St Helens “extremely low”.

Mr Pickett said this in itself raises a “number of questions”.

The council boss said multi-agency staff may not “fully understand the danger signs of radicalisation”, which impacts on low numbers of referrals.

He said work may also need to be carried out within the community around what to be aware of in terms of concerns around radicalisation.

A council report says that while the most significant threat nationally is from Islamist terrorism, there is an increasing threat from extreme right-wing terrorism.

Cllr Andy Bowden, deputy leader of the council, highlighted recent comments from Mark Rowley, the former head of the Metropolitan police’s counter-terrorism unit, about the emerging threat from domestic far-right groups.

He also pointed to the recent case of the neo-Nazi Matthew Hankinson, of Newton-le-Willows, who was jailed for six years for being a member of the banned terror group National Action.

The Labour councillor asked Mr Pickett whether far-right activity is the biggest risk in St Helens.

Mr Pickett replied: “The information that we have received from our Merseyside Police colleagues through the CHANNEL Panel is that the most active risk in St Helens is in the risk from the far-right.

“Although at this stage there’s no suggestions there’s any sophisticated, co-ordinated network we’re at risk from but clearly there have been incidents on an individual basis rather than a co-ordinated way that have been reported.

“So, we have people who have demonstrated those views in St Helens.

“The answer is yes, that would appear to be the biggest risk at this stage.”

In 2019, the statutory responsibility for oversight and delivery of PREVENT agenda will transfer from Merseyside Police to the local authority.

This will be underpinned by a more integrated approach between intelligence, local authorities, health authorities and other key agencies.

The council report says the updated strategy provides a greater focus on a systemic and co-ordinated response across public sector organisations.

Mr Pickett said the council is in the process of arranging the delivering multi-agency training.

The authority is also in talks with Merseyside Police to deliver an awareness-raising campaign and communication strategy to workforce and the public.

Cabinet approved the PREVENT Operational Guidance and Action Plan 2018- 2021.