SJUK Exclusive: Continuing to counter terrorism

June 2, 2022


Philip Ingram MBE explains why the UK public must remain vigilant in spite of positive legislative change.

Damian Hinds MP, Minister for Security and Borders, said: “The first duty of the Government remains to protect the public. It is vital that the government continues to consider how and where improvements can be made to combat the threat of terrorism and further enhance public security.”  

He said this in the context of the public consultation into the new Protect duty and in recognition of the fact that terrorism is still very much with us and remains a significant threat to the general public.

Hinds added: “The Protect Duty would be one means by which we seek to further enhance public security, sitting alongside our existing and ongoing work programmes to achieve this aim. I have noted the strength of views expressed in response to several consultation questions, that it is right that those responsible for public places should take measures to protect the public and to prepare their staff to respond appropriately.

“In short, taking measures to ensure that there is an appropriate and consistent approach to protective security and preparedness at public places is a reasonable ask.”

With the news containing to be filled with COVID-19, local elections and the war in Ukraine, it would be easy to forget the terror threat. However, since the attacks in 2017 there have been 31 new attacks thwarted by Counter Terror Police and the Security Services; in fact, seven attacks thwarted during the pandemic lockdowns were what was described as being in their late stage.

There remains over 3,000 people under active investigation and over 900 ongoing investigations to date. We also must note that the war in Ukraine means that within easy driving distance, there is an uncontrolled supply of weapons, ammunition and explosives – terrorists will be exploiting this.

The four P’s

As the final draft of the Protect legislation is put together before being presented to Parliament, the other elements of the four P’s of the Government Counter Terror or CONTEST strategy remain extant and working. These are: Prevent; Pursue; Prepare. Still active therefore is the Prevent strand and the Prevent strategy, published by the Government in 2011, still quietly ensuring people are steered away from the path of radicalisation.

The Prevent strategy is continuing to reduce the threat to the UK from terrorism by stopping people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. Its three specific strategic objectives to achieve this are (in the Act this has simply been expressed as the need to “prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”):

  • Respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism and the threat we face from those who promote it
  • Prevent people from being drawn into terrorism and ensure that they are given appropriate advice and support
  • Work with sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalisation that we need to address

Of course, terrorist groups often draw on extremist ideology developed by extremist organisations. Some people who join terrorist groups have previously been members of extremist organisations and have been radicalised by them. The government has defined extremism in the Prevent strategy as: “Vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also include in our definition of extremism calls for the death of members of our armed forces.”

Prevent is working and of the 4,915 referrals to Prevent in the year ending March 2021, 72% (3,554) were deemed not a risk and signposted to other services, mostly to the NHS, 27% (1,333) were considered for further support through what is called the Channel programme. There remains, however, a continuing growth in individuals being groomed by Extreme Right Wing terror group; despite the successes of Prevent, the statistics show how important the Protect Duty is.

“The terrorism attack methodology has changed”

After participating in the State Opening of Parliament with his father, the Duke of Cambridge, accompanied by the Duchess of Cambridge, went to Manchester for the opening of the Glade of Light Memorial, commemorating the victims and all those affected by the 2017 terror attack at Manchester Arena and further highlighting the event that led to the campaign headed by Figen Murray OBE – the mother of Martyn Hett, one of the victims – to push for the Protect Duty.

In her recent dissertation for her Master’s degree, Figen identified event and wider Publicly Accessible Location (PALs) security as more than just a requirement for the venues, but a wider public responsibility when she said: “[One of the ways for] the proposed Protect Duty legislation to enhance public safety is through social attitude change.

“It is important as the terrorism attack methodology has changed in recent years and increasing numbers of lone actor attacks make it harder for police, counter-terrorism and the government to identify suspects before they pose a danger to society. This shift in methodology has resulted in many deaths as PALs identify as attractive targets for lone actors due to attacks having the potential to yield maximum loss of lives.”  

Figen quoted Lord Toby Harris when she also said: “Lord Toby Harris further strengthens the argument for a public awareness campaign when he emphasises the need to establish societal resilience, stating that this needs to be synergetic and symbiotic with security.” What is of note is that this sentiment applies equally to society’s place in Prevent as much as it does in Protect.

Figen’s final statement sums up how the role of the public in event and wider PALs security is critical when she said: “Empowering people with increased vigilance and knowledge in relation to their personal safety will hopefully result in people enjoying the freedom of movement the UK has to offer. It is hoped that this will also result in fewer attacks and deaths from terrorism.”

With everything that is going on across the globe it is essential we do not take our collective and public eye off the terrorism ball. Greater instability and disaffection tend to be a ripe breeding ground for terrorists and terror groups and are being exploited.

If anything, as the new Protect Duty is introduced to Parliament and debated, watching the preparations being made by the security community will help keep the risk, therefore mitigating it at the forefront of people’s minds. This is critical.

This article was originally published in the June 2022 edition of Security Journal UK. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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