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Counter-Terrorism Bill measures ‘make it easier to prevent Trojan Horse repeat’

Counter-Terrorism Bill measures ‘make it easier to prevent Trojan Horse repeat’

🕔26.Nov 2014

Home Secretary Theresa May unveiled the Government’s Counter-Terrorism Bill today. One of the measures places a general duty on councils and schools to prevent people being drawn into terrorism. Chief blogger Paul Dale traces the links between Birmingham’s Trojan Horse affair and Mrs May’s tough stance.

Three Trojan Horse inquiries found no evidence that children had been radicalised by the “intolerant and aggressive” nature of hard-line Islamic belief promoted by governors and teachers.

But a probe by Peter Clarke, the former Metropolitan Police counter-terror commander appointed Birmingham education commissioner, came closest to suggesting breeding grounds that could in the future allow something rather more sinister to happen were in place.

He stated in his report that the misbehaviour of adults at the centre of Trojan Horse had the effect of “limiting the life chances of the young people in their care and to render them more vulnerable to pernicious influences in the future”.

For ‘pernicious influences’, read extremism and radicalisation.

Clarke had this to say: “I neither specifically looked for, nor found, evidence of terrorism, radicalisation or violent extremism in the schools of concern in Birmingham.

“However…….I found clear evidence that there are a number of people, associated with each other and in positions of influence in schools and governing bodies who espouse, sympathise with, or fail to challenge extremist views.”

Now that councils, schools and colleges are to be placed under a legal duty to actively prevent radicalisation, it is worth asking whether Trojan Horse would have escalated in quite the same way had the Government’s latest anti-terror measures been in place five or six years ago, or at least whether the new legislation makes a repeat of Trojan Horse less likely.

The straight answer is that obligations placed on bodies are only as good as the intention of the bodies to comply with the law. Although no laws were broken in Birmingham, all of the Trojan Horse inquiries concluded that the city council knew what was happening but simply stuck its collective head in the sand when presented with claims about an ultra-conservative Muslim takeover of schools.

The bullying of head teachers, the imposition of a non-balanced curriculum, segregation of the sexes and the refusal to teach children about all faiths was ignored at officer and politician level because the council did not want to upset community cohesion.

Mr Clarke put it this way: “There is incontrovertible evidence that both senior officers and elected members of Birmingham City Council were aware of concerns about activities that bear a striking resemblance to those described in the ‘Trojan Horse’ letter, many months before it surfaced.

“As a result of the evidence gathered by my investigation, I can conclude that senior officers were aware of practices subsequently referred to in the ‘Trojan Horse’ letter as early as the end of 2012, and discussions on this issue took place between officers and elected members in May 2013.

“This is some six months prior to the ‘Trojan Horse’ letter being received by the Leader of the Council. Other than the correspondence of July 2013, I have seen no evidence that concerted action was taken to address head teachers’ concerns in the intervening period.”

So it is all well and good to tell councils that they have to do something. Making sure that new rules are obeyed is quite another thing.

There is already much controversy about the intention to make it easier to access emails and internet traffic in the hunt to track down extremists. This has been given a topical flavour by the disclosure that one of the murderers of soldier Lee Rigby expressed his intention to kill on Facebook, but the internet company did not pass the message on to the security services.

It so happens that email traffic by some of the individuals at the heart of the Trojan Horse affair was so explicit, and did in fact mention Lee Rigby in a highly disparaging way, that, had it been available to the council or the police, surely one or both of the bodies would have had to act.

Messages sent by the Park View Brotherhood social media group at the Park View Educational Trust were uncovered and published by Mr Clarke.

Mr Clarke said the all-male group discussions, administered by the acting head teacher Monzoor Hussain, included “explicit homophobia, highly offensive comments about British service personnel, a stated ambition to increase segregation in the school, scepticism about the truth of reports of the murder of Lee Rigby and the Boston bombings, and a constant undercurrent of anti-Western, anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment”.

Mr Clarke continued: “The numerous endorsements of hyperlinks to extremist speakers betray a collective mind-set that can fairly be described as an intolerant Islamist approach that denies the validity of alternative beliefs, lifestyles and value systems, including within Islam itself.”

The main elements of the Counter Terrorism Bill are:

  • To enhance border security by toughening transport security arrangements around passenger data, ‘no fly’ lists and screening measures
  • To provide the police with a temporary power to seize a passport at the border from individuals of concern
  • Creating a Temporary Exclusion Order that will control the return to the UK of a British citizen suspected of terrorism-related activities, including the introduction of stronger locational constraints and a power requiring individuals to attend meetings with the authorities as part of their ongoing management
  • Creating a general duty on a range of bodies to prevent people being drawn into terrorism
  • Communications service providers will be required to retain additional information in order to attribute an Internet Protocol address to a specific individual.

Mrs May said: “We are in the middle of a generational struggle against a deadly terrorist ideology. These powers are essential to keep up with the very serious and rapidly changing threats we face.

“In an open and free society, we can never entirely eliminate the threat from terrorism. But we must do everything possible in line with our shared values to reduce the risks posed by our enemies.

“This Bill includes a considered, targeted set of proposals that will help to keep us safe at a time of very significant danger by ensuring we have the powers we need to defend ourselves.”

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