William Shawcross’s selection for Prevent role strongly criticised

Muslim groups point to history of negative remarks about Islam by man tasked with review of anti-radicalisation programme

William Shawcross, a former head of the charity watchdog who has made controversial comments about Islam, is to lead the struggling review of the government’s anti-radicalisation programme Prevent.

The review, announced in January 2019, has been beset by delays. It has taken 13 months to appoint Shawcross to lead it, after the government’s first choice, Lord Carlile, was forced to step down in December 2019.

The government initially committed in law to complete and respond to the review by August 2020 but removed this requirement in new legislation.

Civil liberties and human rights organisations such as Amnesty International have been calling for an independent review of Prevent for some time, saying it fosters discrimination against people of Muslim faith or background and inhibits legitimate expression.

The appointment of Shawcross, who chaired the Charity Commission between 2012 and 2018, was met instantly with criticism over previous remarks he has made about Islam.

In 2012, as a director of the neoconservative thinktank the Henry Jackson Society, he said: “Europe and Islam is one of the greatest, most terrifying problems of our future. I think all European countries have vastly, very quickly growing Islamic populations.”

The Charity Commission for England and Wales under Shawcross’s tenure was accused of institutional bias against Muslims by the Claystone thinktank, while Muslim groups have highlighted as concerning comments he made in his book Justice and the Enemy, which appear to support use of torture and the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay.

Dal Babu, a former senior Muslim officer in the Met police, condemned the appointment. Babu, who described Prevent as a toxic brand in 2015, said: “Shawcross is a man who has demonstrated lack of independence in matters involving the Muslim community and sadly this is a missed opportunity to develop an effective [programme] that safeguards our children.”

A spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain said Shawcross’s appointment was a “Trumpian” move. They said: “Once again, the government is making it clear it has no interest in truly reviewing the policy. William Shawcross is singularly unfit to be a neutral and fair assessor of this government policy, which has been criticised for unfairly targeting British Muslims, given his frightening views about Islam and Muslims.

“It is ironic that a policy supposedly charged with preventing extremism is to be scrutinised by a person who holds hostile views on Islam and Muslims, who has links to people with extreme views on us, and who defends the worst excesses of the so-called ‘war on terror’.”

The home secretary picked Shawcross, who is a fellow with the rightwing thinktank Policy Exchange, over Nazir Afzal, the former chief crown prosecutor in the north-west who is from a Muslim background.

Afzal was interviewed for the final stages of the process. On Tuesday he pointed out on Twitter that the Telegraph had reported that Shawcross was ministers’ favoured candidate a week before they were interviewed, which did not “suggest a fair fight”.

He added: “I threatened to withdraw my application at that stage as I was just in race to give public impression that it was open selection. But I didn’t go to Eton (just humble comprehensive) nor was I best mates with ministers. Independence means a different thing to me. I’m not disheartened.”

The Prevent strategy includes a statutory duty for schools, NHS trusts, prisons and local authorities to report any concerns they have about people who may be at risk of turning to extremism.

Supporters of the strategy say statistics prove that it does not target one community in particular and has successfully diverted vulnerable individuals from being radicalised and becoming terrorists.

The independent review is supposed to consider the strategy, delivery and future of the Prevent programme.

Following his appointment, Shawcross said: “I intend to lead a robust and evidence-based examination of the programme, to help ensure that Britain has a clear and effective strategy to protect vulnerable people from being drawn into terrorism.”

Just 11% of referrals to Prevent were ultimately deemed to be at risk of radicalisation, most recent figures showed.

Home Office data showed there were 6,287 referrals in the year to 31 March, up 10% compared with the record low in the previous year. Ultimately, 697 were deemed at risk of radicalisation and taken on by the government’s Channel programme for specialist support.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “There was a full and open recruitment process to find the new independent reviewer of prevent.

“A panel, led by an independent chair, assessed the candidates and found that Mr Shawcross met the criteria and possessed the right range of skills and experience to conduct this important review.”


Jamie Grierson and Vikram Dodd

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
UK's Prevent counter-radicalisation policy 'badly flawed'
Justice Initiative report says viewing radical Islam as precursor to terrorism risks human rights and is counterproductive

Ian Cobain

18, Oct, 2016 @11:01 PM

Article image
Prevent strategy stigmatising Muslim pupils, say teachers
School and college staff question effectiveness of anti-radicalisation drive and say it undermines inclusion efforts

Sally Weale Education correspondent

03, Jul, 2017 @2:42 PM

Article image
Prevent scheme 'fosters fear and censorship at universities'
Just Yorkshire’s report, citing interviews with Muslim students and academics, urges closure of anti-radicalisation programme

Josh Halliday North of England correspondent

28, Aug, 2017 @11:01 PM

Article image
'My son was terrified': how Prevent alienates UK Muslims
A 13-year-old boy being asked if he liked Isis because he said ‘eco-terrorist’ in class is one of many stories prompting criticism of strategy

Jamie Grierson Home affairs correspondent

27, Jan, 2019 @2:36 PM

Article image
Hundreds of Islamic groups boycott Prevent review over choice of chair
Exclusive: choice of William Shawcross to head anti-radicalisation scheme review criticised owing to past remarks about Islam

Jamie Grierson Home affairs correspondent

17, Mar, 2021 @12:09 PM

Article image
Andy Burnham pledges to replace Prevent strategy in Manchester
New scheme must command confidence of region’s Muslim communities, says Greater Manchester mayor

Josh Halliday North of England correspondent

22, Jun, 2017 @12:07 PM

Article image
Prevent is failing. Any effective strategy must include Muslim communities | Miqdaad Versi
Treating all Muslims with suspicion has made Prevent a toxic brand. A grassroots-led programme would be more effective at countering terrorism

Miqdaad Versi

20, Oct, 2016 @1:48 PM

Article image
The latest Prevent figures show why the strategy needs an independent review | Miqdaad Versi
The Home Office report makes worrying reading for Muslims, who appear to have been disproportionately targeted, writes Miqdaad Versi, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, writing in a personal capacity

Miqdaad Versi

10, Nov, 2017 @12:57 PM

Article image
Human rights groups to boycott government's Prevent review
Coalition of 17 groups says appointment of William Shawcross shows review will ‘rubber-stamp’ anti-radicalisation strategy

Jamie Grierson Home affairs correspondent

16, Feb, 2021 @3:48 PM

Article image
Prevent programme 'spying on our young people', say east London imams
Muslim religious leaders in Newham claim government’s Prevent anti-radicalisation strategy causing ‘breakdown of trust’

Randeep Ramesh

06, Dec, 2015 @6:36 PM