Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham delivers fierce criticism of Prevent

Andy Burnham MP

Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham has said the UK Government’s controversial Prevent strategy has destroyed British Muslims’ trust in the police.

Speaking at a fringe event organised by the Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) at Labour Conference, Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham said Muslims should be given a new way of reporting Islamophobic hate crimes. The lack of trust, he believes, has led to Islamophobic crimes not being reported, and thus the true scale being unknown.

Mr Burnham, who is Labour’s candidate for Mayor of Greater Manchester, compared Prevent to the French ban on the burkini, and said it “singles out one community for different treatment”. He said such an approach risked legitimising or inspiring Islamophobic hate crimes.

Burnham said he wanted a “root and branch review” of Prevent because its disproportionate targeting of Muslims as potential violent extremists.

The Prevent strategy puts a statutory duty on public service workers to report activity or changes in behaviour in those they serve which could be seen as signs of “radicalisation”, for example growing a beard for religious purposes or attending the mosque more frequently.  

The counter-terrorism programme has been widely criticised by groups such as Cage and MEND. Dave Anderson QC, the government’s independent counter-terrorism legislation reviewer has also said the policy needs changing amongst many others such Sir Peter Fahy and former Met Police Chief Dal Babu.

In addition to reviewing Prevent, Mr Burnham questioned whether there should be an avenue other than the police for British Muslims to report Islamophobic hate crime.

He said: “If people have a feeling that the bodies that they would go to are also simultaneously being asked to monitor them there’s a possible conflict of interest there isn’t there?

“Then people won’t feel able to come forward and say exactly what’s happening to them and their family if they also feel they’re being monitored in some way. Is there then a need to create trusted third parties for reporting hate crime so that it isn’t the case that people have to go directly to the police or possibly the council?”

He also said the threat of far-right extremism is not being properly treated. 

Shahab Adris, manager of MEND Yorkshire and Humber, said MEND’s criticism of Prevent echo the concerns expressed by teachers, doctors, academics across Britain including unions such as the NUS and NUT that Prevent is inherently Islamophobic and discriminatory.

“We have very serious issues with far-right extremism and at MEND we are taking into account the fine line between freedom of speech and incitement to hatred and violence. There is a genuine fear of Muslims and Islam which is perpetuated by irresponsible media representation of Islam and Muslims and damaging rhetoric by our politicians and this needs to be tackled collectively and appropriately.

“There is evidence that there are serious grievances against the police and Criminal Justice System as sentencing and representation of Muslims in prisons is disproportionate when compared to non-Muslims. Amid the backdrop of continuous association with grooming, terrorism, FGM and honour killings, the Rotherham 12 campaign is a prime example of injustices faced by the Muslim community. They had to endure a real far-right threat in their local communities as the police and local authorities allowed a dozen marches by the likes of EDL and Britain First over a period of 14 months.”

And the journalist and staunch crtic of Prevent Peter Oborne told 5 Pillars: ” Andy Burnham has raised some really important issues and his points demand an answer urgently from the Conservative government. It will be interesting to see what response the new Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, comes up with at Tory Conference next week.”

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