Imagine a knock on your door late one night by two non-uniformed police offers. They explain that someone, somewhere has mentioned your “extremist opinions” and they are worried you might “act on them,” whatever that means. They won’t tell you who informed them, but they appear to know an awful lot about what you think. They advise you to come with them for some kind of re-education programme and imply there may be dire consequences if you don’t. Is this some kind of Orwellian nightmare? No. Welcome to 21st century Britain and the Channel Project, part of the government's counter-terrorism Prevent strategy.
The Channel Project was started in Lambeth and Lancashire in 2007 before being rolled out to other parts of the UK. Teachers, youth workers, child minders, health and social services, sport clubs, mosques, prisons and women’s forums as well as people working in community initiatives were asked by police to identify individuals they considered vulnerable to radical extremism. The initial focus was on Muslims, following the tube bomb attacks in London in 2005, to identify potential threats before they got involved with violence so police could provide
“a programme of intervention tailored to the individual”Though no-one has ever been charged with any crime, authorities refuse to divulge information about the number of people referred to the project as
"publication of specific Channel data would provide information to those who seek to challenge the process, which would not be in the public interest."However judging by the information that has been released, the project operates on a large scale, having identified 238 children, some of nursery school age. Indeed, it transpired that counter terrorism officers have been targeting nursery schools.
Criticism has come from across the professional and political spectrum, with some institutions refusing to take part. A report by Institute of Race Relations observed that
"there is strong evidence that a significant part of the Prevent programme involves the embedding of counter-terrorism police officers within the delivery of local services.”and a report by the last government stated that the projects have stigmatised and alienated the very Muslims it was designed to reach out to, as the scheme was seen as an excuse for intelligence gathering. Even the Daily Telegraph calls for the project to be scrapped, describing it as:
“a textbook example of how to alienate absolutely everybody”In South Wales, Vince Donovan, the Community Engagement Officer attached to the Channel Project in Cardiff, gave a presentation to a further education institution in Cardiff recently. He explained that they have learned from the English experience and rolled out the scheme to include targeting those involved with Far Right activities including the Welsh Defence League.
In addition, they are looking at other groups, such as Reclaim The Streets and the Anti-Nazi League, (largely inactive and non-existant respectively). His colleague Mike Rees, in a presentation to the same institution earlier in the year, explained that all these groups groom individuals for violence in the same manner as pedophiles, an extraordinary, inane and untruthful claim which he refused to retract.
By playing on people’s anxieties and lumping all kinds of radical activism into the same bracket as suicide bombing and pedophilia, South Wales Police are asking people to inform on their neighbours friends, workmates and clients if they suspect them of being “radical”.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2000, says terrorism can include property damage. However a group of protesters who smashed up an arms factory in Brighton causing £180,000 worth of damage, walked free from court last year. The jury decided that as the factory was producing weaponry bound for Israel to be used against civilians in Gaza, a greater crime had been prevented. Unable to punish such activists for property damage is the Channel Project hoping for some kind of possible thought crime?
When a counter demonstration against the Ummah of Muhammed in Cardiff was called, the police called on the organiser at her home and told her she would need their permission to demonstrate (untrue), discouraging her from going ahead. If South Wales Police think that organising a legal demonstration and exercising the right to protest is a step too far, what can we expect from the Channel Project? As Fitwatch remarked at the time:
“Neither is it at all clear where the line is drawn. What is extremist and what isn't? Who decides?”So are you off to protest about the the Gaza occupation, or the need for a new Welsh Language Act? Are you trying to stop the proposed badger cull in Pembroke? Perhaps you are taking part in action against the Splott incinerator, or maybe you’re simply discussing opinions in a classroom or pub. You may well get a knock on the door and carted away for “tailored intervention”.
Tip offs to the Channel Project can be anonymous, perhaps someone doesn’t like you. But don’t worry. Officer Vince Donovan is “pretty certain" the information the Channel Project will store on you will not appear on your enhanced police disclosure. However, he says, it’s “early days” so they won’t let you know how long they keep the information or how it may affect your prospects in the future.
Considering that the security services are already remarkably successful at counter-terrorism why has such a deeply flawed and discredited scheme been introduced into Wales? Contact Vince Donovan and ask him: 02920 572 356 Int: 34462 or 02920 338 453 or 07837 025 716.