The number of children and vulnerable adults identified through a controversial government anti-radicalisation initiative as being at risk of being drawn into terrorism has surged by more than 25 percent in the past year, the Independent can reveal.At least 940 people have been referred for assessment as potential violent extremists under the Channel programme since last April, according to figures obtained from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) via a Freedom of Information request.
They include 467 under 18-year-olds, representing more than a third of all juvenile referrals since Channel, which is primarily tasked with addressing Islamic extremism, was launched in 2007.
The sharp increase is likely to cause further consternation and concern in Muslim communities already angered by the London mayor Boris Johnson’s comments last week calling for children deemed to be at risk of being radicalised by their parents to be taken into care.
Johnson called for the law to be changed “so that children who are being turned into potential killers or suicide bombers can be removed into care – for their own safety and for the safety of the public”.
His remarks sparked outrage among many British Muslims with some taking to Twitter using the hashtag #SignsOfARadicalBaby to lampoon the mayor’s views.
ACPO has previously published details of the total number of referrals up to March last year, but the new figures offer a more detailed breakdown of cases by age, as well as providing an updated total to the end of January.
According to the figures, 153 children under 11, another 690 aged 12-15, and 554 aged 16-17 have been referred since 2007. A further 2,196 adults have also been assessed. The total of 940 so far for 2013/14 marks an increase of just over a quarter on 748 cases in 2012/13.
The government’s guide for those tasked with implementing Channel describes it as an early intervention process that safeguards children and adults from being drawn into terrorism-related activity.
The programme is coordinated by the police but draws on input from across a spectrum of public including children’s and adult welfare services, schools and healthcare providers. Individuals are assessed by a multi-agency panel to identify an appropriate “support package” for their requirements.
But many Muslims complain that the programme amounts to community surveillance.
Jahangir Mohammed, the co-author of a critical report on the government’s wider Prevent counter-terrorism strategy published by the civil liberties campaign group CAGE, said: “These figures show that the net of those considered susceptible to radicalism and potentially terrorism is being cast to pick up more and more people.
“The idea that there are 843 people under the age of 15 that are potential terrorists is simply ludicrous. The figures are a sign of a failed policy. There is an urgent need for a review of the nature of referrals and public scrutiny of how the policy is operating.”
ACPO says that Channel activity primarily takes place in Muslim communities because Islamic-inspired terrorists currently pose the greatest threat to the UK.
Not all of those referred are deemed to require intervention. Last year ACPO said about 22 per cent of cases were assessed to be vulnerable to being drawn towards terrorism and received further support.
A Home Office spokesperson said a notable proportion of individuals receiving support were referred because they were at risk of far-right extremism.
“Channel is a vital part of our Prevent strategy and provides support and protection to individuals who may be vulnerable to any form of radicalisation. The programme does not exclusively work with young people, but those in their late teens and early twenties can be particularly susceptible to being influenced by extremist views.”
A version of this article was originally published online by The Independent on 23 March, and in print on 24 March, 2014.