Islamist groups funded by taxpayer, Prevent review finds

William Shawcross - David Rose for The Telegraph
William Shawcross - David Rose for The Telegraph

Taxpayers’ money has been handed to groups promoting Islamist extremism, a landmark review of the Government’s flagship Prevent programme has found.

Key figures in organisations funded by Prevent are alleged to have supported the Taliban, defended militant Islamist groups banned in the UK and hosted hate preachers, according to a leaked draft of the report seen by The Telegraph.

The review by William Shawcross, a former head of the Charity Commission, is expected to say that the “unacceptable” cases undermined Prevent’s ability to “effectively undertake counter-radicalisation” work.

As part of the Prevent de-radicalisation strategy introduced after the 9/11 attacks, groups and charities have been given taxpayers’ money to steer young Muslims away from terrorism.

But the review finds that a number of the organisations went on to promote extreme Islamist ideas.

“These findings raise serious questions about whether Prevent is knowingly taking this approach and, if not, whether it operates robust due diligence procedures and has an acceptable level of understanding of Islamist extremism,” the report will say.

The finding that government-funded groups have promoted extremism is likely to provoke a backlash, with the UK facing steep tax rises in the new year.

The report has taken nearly two years since Mr Shawcross was appointed in January 2021 by Priti Patel, then the home secretary, with Home Office lawyers working to counter potential libel action by any referenced groups.

That led to concerns among supporters of Mr Shawcross that the review could be watered down for fear of provoking claims of Islamophobia and stirring community tensions. One said: “Home Office officials are terrified of looking like they are picking on Muslims.”

But on Wednesday, government sources denied there had been any “redactions” or that the report was delayed by a row between Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, and Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, over removing names.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The review will be published in due course. It remains right that we take the time to prepare and deliver a considered response.”

The long-awaited review is expected to criticise Prevent for straying from its “core mission” of stopping people from becoming terrorists by putting too much emphasis on treating them as victims.

It is also expected to say that Prevent is “out of kilter” with the rest of the counter-terrorism system by focusing on Right-wing extremism at the expense of the Islamist threat, which accounts for the vast majority of terror attacks.

When out of office in the summer, Mr Gove said it would be a “key test” for the Government to treat Mr Shawcross’s report seriously, not “kick it into the long grass” or dilute it so it did not “see the light of day”.

In the draft review, Mr Shawcross says he examined some of the hundreds of millions of pounds in funding distributed by Prevent, finding that the money “too often goes towards generic projects” and, in some cases even to organisations that had “promoted extremist narratives”.

“During the course of the review, I became aware that some Prevent-funded groups promote extremism or have links with extremists,” he says. “I found unacceptable examples of some of these organisations promoting Islamist extremist sentiments, or of validating and associating with Islamist extremists.”

‘Vital tool for early intervention’

The report cites four examples from open source research, including the leader of a Prevent-funded civil society organisation that made public statements “favourable and supportive” of the Taliban.

It had referred to militant Islamist groups proscribed in the UK as “so-called terrorists” and “legitimate resistance groups”, and said Muslim members of the Armed Forces should refuse orders. It also said the statutory Prevent duty threatened “a McCarthyite witch-hunt against Muslims”.

A second hosted Islamist figures who had engaged in “hateful rhetoric” against liberal Muslims and Muslim minorities, while the founder of a third had supported the views of an organisation known for hosting extremist speakers. At a fourth, senior figures and staff members were found to be connected to Islamist networks.

“Prevent lets the vast majority of Muslims in this country down when it gives legitimacy and influence to those which promote Islamist narratives,” the report says.

Mr Shawcross states that officials involved in Prevent may be focusing on Right-wing extremism “above and beyond the actual threat it poses” in order to “try and fend off accusations” that its earlier focus on Islamist extremists was “stigmatising minority communities”.

“It is correct for Prevent to be increasingly concerned about the growing threat from the extreme Right. But the facts clearly demonstrate that the most lethal threat in the last 20 years has come from Islamism, and this threat continues to endure,” the report says.

It warns of a concerted campaign “driven by a number of Islamist groups to undermine and delegitimise Prevent”, including by “stirring up grievance and mistrust” towards the scheme among British Muslims.

The Downing Street spokesman said: “We’ve always said Prevent remains a vital tool for early intervention and safeguarding.” Mr Shawcross declined to comment.