OPINION

How the Coronavirus May Impact Anti-Terror Programmes in the UK

The 22nd of May marks a tragic anniversary for the United Kingdom, as the nation remembers the victims of two terrorist attacks that occurred on this date. Not only does it signal the 3 year anniversary of the Manchester Arena bombing that killed 22 concert goers, but also the execution of British Army soldier Lee Rigby.

Earlier this year, the Westminster confirmed that they would begin to roll out Martyn’s law in venues and arenas across the U.K. this law would tighten security at public venues and require them to have a counter-terrorism plan. Yet many fear that the response to Coronavirus has set back many of the government’s plans and could leave the general public vulnerable. 

While the government has introduced provisions to ensure that prisoners charged with terror offences will see out their full prison sentences, the in prison deradicalization programs on offer have been condemned as u fit for purpose or a waste of taxpayers money.

In January of this year, it was revealed that one of Lee Rigby’s killers, Michael Adebolajo, was a voluntary de-radicalisation adviser at the jail where London Bridge attacker Usman Khan was an inmate undergoing rehabilitation. 

What lessons have we learnt from the violent terrorist attacks that occurred on the 22nd of May? Terrorism expert, Dr David Lowe, a senior research fellow, at Leeds Beckett University shared his opinions on the UK’s current anti-terror programmes and just how Coronavirus could impact the war on terror. 

Sputnik: How much has the UK government changed since the murder of Lee Rigby and the Manchester Arena bombing?

Dr David Lowe: I think quite a lot in relation to taking a more rounded approach to preventing acts of terrorism. The Kerslake report that followed the Manchester arena bombing was quite instrumental, looking at how our emergency services can improve their cooperation. I know that there’s been changes in practical exercises on how paramedics are used. It used to be the paramedics would wait until the police had made the area safe before they could go in. But then they found that this could take some time and people were dying from certain injuries where there’s blood loss in particular. I think also, we saw this towards the end of last year. The pressure put on by the UK Government and looking at introducing legislation that would make local authorities have to plan out and design out as best they can geographical areas in particular to prevent ts of terrorism. 

So for example, where there’s a large open-air event, there are barriers, put in places to prevent a vehicle attack and entrances to public buildings are now more secure. So if we take a big rounded approach, I think there’s been quite a lot comes out from the Manchester Arena attack. In addition to looking at how best for the security services and the counterterrorism police to keep working and trying to prevent these attacks from happening. 

Sputnik: In the last 12 months, there’s been some criticism of the way that we police and imprison terrorists. This has been all over the tabloids, especially in the wake of the attacks in London last year. Do you think the UK is on the right track when it comes to sentencing terrorists?

Dr David Lowe: Yes, I do. One issue that was frustrating,  of course that’s why they brought out the act that’s changed this in February this year through no fault of this particular government, was the changes in the law as regards to sentencing and keeping terrorists prisoners in prison for as long as to serve the sentence and there were a lot we’re coming up halfway through automatically. I think we saw that I think a prime example as you mentioned there, was the issue of Fishmonger Hall and London Bridge in November last year. But I think perhaps the classic was the Streatham high-stress attack that we witnessed in January this year, where that individual who was released was seen as such a high risk and high threat that he was under 24/7 surveillance and although he did manage to injure a couple of people, the immediate police response showed how effective it was at preventing it. So something had to be done. 

It has to bring back a parole board with experience who look at the release of terrorist prisons because they are different to what I call conventional prisons, your burglars, your robbers and so on.  These people can be deeply imbued with an ideology, they might not even recognise the court system, the prison system, they see themselves as prisoners of war. I mean, certainly, if you go across to Northern, you’re still seeing groups like republican Sinn fein, they refer to dissident Republican prisoners as ‘prisoners of war’. 

So you have that mentality, so they are slightly different, you need a specialist parole board to look at that and not have the automatic release. It’s really important that they are assessed if they’re going to be safe to go back into our society and into our communities. That is absolutely paramount. But what was interesting was on Monday, I saw the Home Secretary was looking at repealing TPMIs, which is a pre-sentence order to monitor and control suspected terrorists. I think they’re looking to have those removed to go back to what were control laws that came out in 2005. So there our moves ahead to try and do this because the bottom line is we just have to keep our people safe.

Sputnik: With terrorists who are currently serving prison sentences. There’s been a lot of talk about deradicalization programmes, how successful do you think these deradicalization programmes are?

Dr David Lowe: There’s two ways to look at it, those who are so deeply imbued with an ideology, it will be very difficult, there is our prevent strategy. And part of that prevents strategy is to to be applied in the prisons because they have a special obligation, under the counterterrorism Security Act 2015 under Section 26: prisons are one of the specified or authorities where the staff have a duty to look towards those who are vulnerable to being drawn towards terrorism.

But you can have individuals who’ve been sentenced for more minor offences who could be on the periphery. Then there is the opportunity to apply the prevent strategy, which is like our deradicalisation programme. But I think lessons have to be learned and resources put into this. If we’re gonna take this seriously, let’s put the relevant resources into this and support these individuals on the periphery. But of course, I think there will be those who are that deeply imbued with their ideology that the chances of them changing will be remote but of course then that will also affect how long they stay in prison regarding their sentence. 

Sputnik: Now as we move out of the current lockdown period, Much has been said about the resources of the UK Government and how thinly the police are stretched. Do you think there could be an increased risk for the general public in regards to terrorist activity?

Dr David Lowe: Well, there’s been a few interesting things have been mooted during the partial lockdown we have in the UK here with relation to terrorism. There have been groups be the extreme, far right,  the neo-nazis or Islamist, trying to take advantage of people being online and either trying to recruit them or have them as sympathetic towards their causes. Which is one thing to look at, but I do know that yes, of course, certainly on the uniformed police officers, they have been quite busy trying to police the lockdown regulations that came in April. 

But certainly the counterterrorism police officers and our security services that look at counterterrorism. They have not been taking their eye off the ball at all. They are still mindful of this. For example, I mentioned Northern Ireland before there’s been a few paramilitary attacks in the north of Ireland and the police service of Northern Ireland have been effective in dealing with them and they’ve had arrests. I think one thing we tend to do is look at a lot of mainstream media. A lot of the news is all about the COVID-19 pandemic. But there’s other news, there’s other issues that are going on that perhaps just get lost because the pandemic news reporting is taking up most of our airtime. 

 

The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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