Prevent chief says govt extremism plans risk creating “thought police”

Simon Cole

The police chief in charge of the Prevent counter-extremism strategy has said government plans are so flawed they risk creating a “thought police” in Britain.

The Guardian reported that Simon Cole said that the plans may not be enforceable and risk making police officers judges of “what people can and can not say.”

“Unless you can define what extremism is very clearly then it’s going to be really challenging to enforce,” Cole said. “We don’t want to be the thought police, we absolutely don’t want to be the thought police.”

Asked if government plans create a danger of that, Cole said: “Potentially there is a risk.”

Cole accepted that the plans had triggered deep concerns among Muslims.

Prevent is causing huge concern among British Muslim communities
Prevent is causing huge concern among British Muslim communities

Asked if he was concerned he said: “Yes, because the police need to be able to safeguard people without being drawn into a hugely contentious potential role about a kind of thought police control of what people can and can not say.

“And that needs really clearly defining and it needs parliament to lay out what is and isn’t acceptable.”

Many British Muslims are furious about the plans but Cole pointed out others in society are anxious about them too. “There is real concern about that, I would say not just within specifically the … Muslim communities,” he said.

His senior policing colleagues are among that group, Cole said: “I think we have concerns about how enforceable a piece of legislation would be. I don’t think it’s unreasonable that we reflect on how we would do that and I think we as a profession are very focused on threat and risk and harm and how to deal with it.”

He said it was proper for police chiefs to speak out and offer advice, adding: “It is for the government to decide what to do with legislation, and it is for us to offer, when asked, if asked, to offer an operational view of it.”

Cole said: “Within society as a whole we have to… have some limits about what you can say but they need to be as broad as they possibly can be.”

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