Prevent referrals thought to be 50% down as far-right and Islamist groups exploit vulnerable in lockdown
Counter-terrorism officials fear a rise in terrorist recruits after a collapse in referrals to the UKs main anti-radicalisation scheme during the lockdown, as extremists pump out propaganda urging British attacks.
The Guardian understands referrals to Prevent are down by more than 50% since the lockdown started on 23 March, according to official figures yet to be made public.
Counter-terrorism officials fear a crucial defence is being weakened with young people spending more time online alone and unsupervised since schools and colleges closed.
Ch Supt Nik Adams, the national coordinator for Prevent, said: What concerns me greatly is that the decline in the number of referrals doesnâ€™t mean that there are fewer people that need our help, but that fewer people are able to access the support they need.
Schools, mental health workers and other public services provide vital support and protection to young and vulnerable people, and the combination of those services being impacted by Covid-19 and the fact people are spending more time online means a small number of vulnerable people are at greater risk of being drawn towards terrorist activity.
One major cause of the sharp drop in referrals is that those in the community who usually spot signs of concern, such as youth workers and teachers, are no longer meeting people. The scheme relies on such referrals. The fall in referrals is believed to be the largest ever in the more than a decade Prevent has been running.
Britains top counter-terrorism officer, assistant commissioner Neil Basu, has said Prevent is the most important strand of the UKs counter-terrorism strategy to thwart mass casualty attacks by those radicalised by both jihadists and the extreme right wing.