March 27, 2018 / 11:36 AM / 6 months ago

Far-right referrals to UK's counter-terrorism scheme soar

LONDON (Reuters) - Referrals to the British government’s counter-terrorism programme Prevent because of far-right concerns rose by more than a quarter last year, official figures showed on Tuesday.

The increase follows recent warnings from police about a new and significant threat from organised far-right terrorism, with four such plots foiled in the previous 12 months.

People are referred to Prevent, a key strand of Britain’s security strategy, if concerns are raised with police or local authorities that they are being drawn into terrorism.

Since 2015, public bodies such as schools, health workers and universities are compelled to report any suspicions they might have.

Figures showed 968 people, including 272 aged under 15, were referred to the programme because of right-wing concerns in the year to March 2017, an increase of 28 percent from the year before.

Overall, the number of Prevent referrals was down from 7,631 to 6,093. The majority, 3,704 or 61 percent, were made because of fears over Islamist extremism, although this number was down by 26 percent from the previous year.

Of those referred to the programme, 332 were finally passed on to the voluntary, de-radicalisation scheme known as Channel to receive support from specialist mentors, with more than a third referred over far-right extremism.

Prevent has been dogged since its inception by claims that it is used to spy on Muslim communities but ministers and police say it aims to tackle all forms of extremism and has helped to stop radicalisation.

Most of those referred to Prevent were aged under 20, with more than a quarter under 15.

Britain suffered five attacks last year which were classified as terrorism by the authorities, four of which were blamed on Islamist militants and one on a far-right extremist. The country remains on the second-highest threat level of “severe”, meaning an attack is considered highly likely.

Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison

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