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Anti-terror strategy 'toxic brand'

The Government's anti-radicalisation strategy has become a "toxic brand", a Muslim former police chief has claimed.

Dal Babu said most Muslims are suspicious of the Prevent scheme and see it as something used for spying on them.

The former chief superintendent, who retired from the Metropolitan Police in 2013, said the force's counter-terrorism command was "virtually all white" and there was a "lack of knowledge" among officers around race and faith issues.

With an annual budget of £40 million, Prevent is one of four strands of Contest, the acronym given to the Government's multi-pronged counter-terrorism strategy.

But the programme, which is aimed at stopping people becoming terrorists, has come under the spotlight after hundreds of Britons are believed to travelled to Syria to join Islamic State (IS), including three London schoolgirls who fled the UK last month.

Mr Babu, who was chairman of the Association of Muslim Officers within the Met, said: "There's been a lot of concern about the Prevent strategy in the Muslim community over the last few years.

"Prevent was bought in with good intentions but over the years it has alienated the Muslim community who see it as spying.

"It's a toxic brand in the same way the Big Society idea was brought in but we don't about hear about it much any more. "

Mr Babu called for "greater diversity" in safeguarding boards aimed at protecting children and among senior police figures.

"It's virtually all white in the counter-terrorism command," he said

" There's a lack of diversity in the police and, equally important, a lack of diversity in children's services. I'm not aware of a single ethnic minority director of children's services or independent chair of a safeguarding board."

Last year it was revealed that counter-terror officers had received 77 reports from families through the Prevent programme, some of which enabled police to catch aspiring terrorists.

Chief Constable Sir Peter Fahy, national policing lead for Prevent, defended the scheme and said parents must take responsibility for ensuring their children do not become radicalised.

"Over the past year a number of Muslim leaders have recognised that they need to give a stronger message against extremism and against travel to Syria," he said.

"Extremist voices have been allowed to fill spaces in the media too regularly and this misrepresents the vast majority of Muslims who are committed to British values.

"The prime responsibility for stopping young people thinking of travelling to Syria or other warzones must be with their families and carers, who know them and are able to spot the early signs of radicalisation.

"I understand it is a difficult challenge for parents between allowing freedom and protecting young people from harmful material on the internet but the responsibility cannot be transferred to schools and the police."

Sir Peter said it would "obviously help" to have more Muslims working in the police but officers on the Prevent programme had developed an "extensive knowledge of minority groups and the different facets of the Muslim religion".

He added: "It is difficult to measure success because, in counter-terrorism, success is ultimately that attacks don't take place. Nevertheless thousands of people have received help from projects supported by Prevent following concerns being raised about their behaviour and attitudes."

A Home Office spokesman said: " As a country, we must consistently challenge the twisted narrative of extremism.

"This Government fundamentally revised the Prevent strategy in 2011 to ensure it challenges terrorist ideology, supports people who are vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism and works with sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalisation.

"Most importantly, we changed Prevent's objectives so it also deals with non-violent extremism."

He added that the Home Office was drawing up a new strategy which deals with "the whole spectrum of extremism".

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