OAPs suspected of being terror threats have rocketed by 90 per cent in three years – after authorities focused on far-right figures ‘to appease critics of the scheme’.
In 2020 alone 97 over 60s were flagged up to Prevent, the Government’s strategy for identifying those who could be at risk of becoming dangerous extremists.
It is nearly double the 53 reported to the organisation back in the twelve months spanning 2017 and 2018.
But experts believe the majority of them are what would be considered far-right terror suspects, sparked by a push by some of the UK’s most senior forces.
And it comes as the Prevent strategy is under investigation itself after it was branded ‘toxic’ amid allegations it mainly targeted those from Muslim backgrounds.
Terror and extremism expert Colonel Richard Kemp, who chaired the government’s Cobra Intelligence Group, told MailOnline he believed the increase was down to two new drives.
He said: ‘I know that the authorities are trying to emphasise far-right extremism rather than Islamic extremism.
‘I can tell you that the threat between the two is not comparable. Of course there is a marginal threat from the left and right, but not comparable.
Data analysed by MailOnline show significant increases in the numbers of over 60s referred
‘In the interests of trying to appear even-handed and appease people that criticised the Prevent programme for focusing on Islamic extremists, I know they are looking at far-right extremism more to counter those accusations
‘The authorties have tried to inflate that threat to try and appease critics of those policies.’
‘What it also shows that perhaps there is now a greater understanding of where Islamic extremism comes from
‘Younger people are certainly involved in attacks and plots generally, but I think there is the increased understanding that older people imams, elders or community leaders may be extremely important when it comes to radicalising them.
‘The numbers are encouraging, because despite people in Islamic communities being heavily critical of Prevent, this seems to show that more people within those communities are referring older people. I think the older referrals must be coming from inside the community itself.’
In 2019 to 20 latest figures showed 97 over 60s were referred to Prevent, 18 were discussed by a Channel panel and five going on to be proper cases.
Prevent figures show how different areas of concern have changed over recent years
Referrals to prevent that have been adopted as Channel Cases have gone down from 2017 high
What is Prevent?
Prevent is part of the government’s counter-terrorism initiative and was created by the then ruling Labour party in 2003.
It is intended to support and identify people vulnerable to becoming terrorists and has a statutory element that compels authorities including the NHS and schools to report people.
After referral, cases are assessed and if appropriate they can be escalated to something called the Channel programme.
Channel offers different types of support, which can even include mental health interventions if appropriate.
Prevent has been accused by critics of concentrating more on people of Muslim faith or background.
Earlier in the year spanning 2017 to 18 there were a total of 53 over 60s referred to Prevent, of which seven were discussed at Channel panel, but none were adopted as a Channel Case.
Then in 2018 to 19 there were 75 of the older generation Prevent referrals, while 15 were discussed by Channel and four becoming an official case.
Home Office data showed there were a total of 6,287 referrals this year, with 697 taken on by the government’s Channel programme for specialist support
Risks from older extremists were brought to the fore in 2017 when the then 52-year-old Khalid Masood launched a terror attack in Westminster, killing five people.
The fanatic – who still is the oldest Islamic terrorist in Britain – drove into four people before stabbing to death an unarmed police officer.
Until then it had been widely-thought teenagers and younger people were most at risk of radicalisation and becoming a threat.
At the time David Videcette, a former senior counter terrorism officer said authorities had to think about who could become a danger.
He said that year: ‘There is a tendency to try to profile what a typical terrorist is, but this can be very problematic because, of course, not every terrorist fits the profile.
‘Just because he had reached his fifties does not mean that he was no longer a danger.’
Westminster terrorist Khalid Masood, 52, is the oldest in Britain convicted over an attack
Masood killed PC Keith Palmer, Aysha Frade, Leslie Rhodes, Andreea Cristea and Kurt Cochran
The sequence of events when someone is referred to the counter-terror Prevent programme
Research carried out by ICM Unlimited on behalf of the Home Office suggested 58% of the general public viewed Prevent favourably compared to just 8% who disliked the scheme.
Prevent was first introduced five years ago and has seen changes in how many cases are referred and then adopted year-on-year.
Terror attacks that have been carried out in the UK have led to greater public awareness of who could turn to extremism and in turn members of the public flagging suspicions.
Of those initially referred that do not become Channel cases, around half are passed to other services for intervention.
An independent review of Prevent is being carried out and had been due to finish this year, although the coronavirus pandemic has put it back a further year.
The review was welcomed by the Muslim Council of Great Britain when it was announced.
Then Harun Khan, the organisation’s secretary-general, said: ‘For far too long, the Prevent strategy has affected the lives of innocent families, been criticised for mainstreaming discrimination and lost the trust of communities around the UK.’
A Home Office spokesperson told MailOnline the older referrals made up a small part of the total.
They added: ‘The latest statistics clearly show Prevent is tackling the threat from radicalisation – an essential part of our counter-terrorism strategy – and helping to keep our communities safe.
‘Safeguarding is at its heart and since the introduction of the Prevent duty in 2015, 2,352 referrals have resulted in individuals identified as vulnerable to radicalisation receiving support to turn them away from a dangerous path.
‘Although the number of referrals for over 60s has increased since the year ending March 2018, referrals for this age group remain comparatively low. Referrals for over 60s accounted for only 2% of all referrals to Prevent within the year ending March 2020 – 97 out of 6,287.’