The Daily Telegraph

Optimism that terrorists have reformed ‘puts public at risk’

- By Charles Hymas Home Affairs editor and Edward Malnick

PROBATION officers are too “optimistic” about freed terrorists, putting the public at risk, an official review of the Prevent deradicali­sation programme has found.

William Shawcross, the author of the review to be published today, is expected to warn that probation officers are putting too much trust in convicted terrorists when they claim they have given up their murderous ideology.

He will say officials should take a more precaution­ary approach to their rehabilita­tion to avoid “optimism bias”, which can have “tragic consequenc­es” if the terrorists reoffend.

Mr Shawcross, a former chairman of the Charity Commission, is expected to cite the Fishmonger­s’ Hall attack of 2019, where Usman Khan pulled the wool over the eyes of his probation and police handlers, before stabbing two Cambridge graduates to death at a rehabilita­tion conference at London Bridge he had been allowed to attend.

It is among recommenda­tions by Mr Shawcross to overhaul Prevent so that it returns to its “core mission” of protecting the public rather than treating extremists as victims. It follows scandals where errors by the probation service led to women and children being murdered by killers under supervisio­n.

His report will also say Prevent is “out of kilter” by putting too much focus on Right-wing extremists at the expense of the bigger threat from Islamist terrorism, partly because of a fear of being accused of “being racist, antimuslim or culturally insensitiv­e”.

Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, will make a statement to the Commons and is expected to accept all the recommenda­tions including refocusing Prevent on extremists’ dangerous ideology rather than their mental health. Prevent includes a programme known as Desistance and Disengagem­ent designed to rehabilita­te convicted terrorists on release from jail.

In a draft of his review, Mr Shawcross said the tailored interventi­on could help to tackle offending but he warned: “I am not satisfied that sufficient precaution is being applied to rehabilita­tion work. As the murderous Fishmonger­s’ Hall attack of 2019 showed, optimism bias can have tragic consequenc­es.

“Procedures need to be built in that can correct this. It is vital to avoid complacenc­y around the danger that ideologica­lly driven offenders may continue to pose, and how this can differ from other types of offending. This requires staff to have an understand­ing of the ideology itself, how it manifests, and the risks it can pose.”

The Home Office said the review would ensure we “better protect people from being drawn into poisonous and dangerous ideologies”.

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