Prevent Watch threatens to sue govt if they are labelled ‘extremist’ in Prevent review

The Home Office. Editorial credit: Willy Barton

Prevent Watch has written to the Home Office warning it that they will launch legal action if an upcoming “Independent Review of Prevent” labels them as “extremists.”

The report, written by right-wing activist William Shawcross, has yet to be published, but media leaks suggest that it will recommend refocusing the Prevent counter-extremism strategy on “Islamism.”

Media reports say the delay in publication is due to Home Office legal concerns that the naming of Muslim organisations that are deemed “extremist” will lead to legal action.

Liberty Law Solictors, acting for Prevent Watch, have told the Home Office that they are concerned that organisations that have been named in the review have been “inaccurately and unduly smeared;” and that the unredacted report has been handed over in full to the media in breach of standard government procedure regarding independent reviews.

The letter said: “Our Client was targeted in a report by the think tank Policy Exchange, of which Mr Shawcross is a fellow, on 26/04/20226. This report was published with a foreword suggesting that those who raised concerns about Prevent are ‘enabling terrorism…’

“Given the above, Our Client – an organisation that supports individuals impacted by Prevent and has contributed to advocacy work demonstrating the harms of Prevent – we understand that it is likely that we have been named as part of this ‘list,’ both in the report of the review, and in the non-redacted copy that has been given to some of the media outlets as named above.

“The potential Defamatory Statements in the naming of our Client and any assertion made that our Client is responsible for the spreading of Islamist Extremism are seriously defamatory to our Client. The potential Defamatory Statements are not true or honest opinion and are likely to cause serious damage to our Client’s reputation within the meaning of the Defamation Act.

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“This letter constitutes formal notice that the Defamatory Statements may have therefore been published or already shared in writing. This includes the potential of our Client having been ‘named and listed’ by William Shawcross and unduly handed over to the media. The law requires you to act expeditiously to remove or disable access to the Defamatory Statements if you wish to avoid liability for them.”

Prevent Watch was one of more than 500 organisations and individuals that boycotted Shawcross’s review due to comments he has made about Islam in the past.

A government spokesperson said: “The government is currently reviewing the recommendations of the independent review and will publish the report and our response in due course. It is only right that the government takes the time to prepare and deliver a considered response.”

The government says Prevent aims to safeguard vulnerable people from being drawn into terrorism. It insists that Prevent is non-discriminatory.

However, Muslim groups have long said that Prevent monitors and profiles Muslims and has had a chilling effect on free speech.

In the year ending March 31, 2022, there were 6,406 referrals to Prevent – an increase of 30% compared to the year ending March 2021 (4,915).

For the second year running, the number of referrals for “extreme right-wing radicalisation” concerns (1,309) was greater than referrals for “Islamist” concerns (1,027).

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